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Pinduoduo’s Purpose-Led Agri-Tech Innovation: A Conversation with Xin Yi Lim

This tech company focuses on farmer productivity while reducing the environmental footprint of farming.

E-commerce continues to surge globally, in part accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in many ways, China leads the charge. While some Chinese companies, such as Alibaba and Meituan, have focused on building ecosystems and “super apps,” Pinduoduo’s approach differs. With origins in agriculture and social commerce, Pinduoduo has risen to the top through an innovative business model that is set on creating value for both the merchant and the consumer. In 2020, Pinduoduo was ranked third by GMV of China’s e-commerce platforms, with a total GMV of $242 billion USD.

Prophet’s Tom Zhang, a senior engagement manager, had the chance to sit down with Xin Yi Lim, Pinduoduo’s executive director of sustainability and agricultural impact, to discuss Pinduoduo’s investment in agri-tech, its view on the consumer-to-manufacturer (C2M) model and the company’s ongoing purpose-led innovation initiatives.

Xin Yi Lim

Pinduoduo

Executive Director of Sustainability and Agricultural Impact

As Pinduoduo’s executive director of sustainability and agricultural impact, Xin Yi Lim is responsible for Pinduoduo’s international corporate strategy efforts and innovation in sustainability and agri-tech. Before joining Pinduoduo in late 2018, she worked for Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, GIC, in both its Singapore and New York offices as a technology and media analyst in the Public Equities division. Xin Yi holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oxford and a master’s degree from Harvard University.

Can you tell us a bit more about your background? What brought you to Pinduoduo, and what is your current role there?

I’ve spent most of my working life in investment, covering technology, the internet and media. As a financial analyst and an outsider, I was familiar with Chinese e-commerce but very much interested in learning more.

I joined Pinduoduo in late 2018. I’m part of the broader strategy and investment team, but my title is quite unusual – executive director of sustainability and agricultural impact. It’s very hard to find anybody else who has those two things in one title, which speaks to how Pinduoduo sees agriculture. For us, it’s where we can have a huge impact in the social sphere, via poverty alleviation and job creation, and in the environmental sphere as well.

What is Pinduoduo’s ambition behind its continued focus on agriculture, even as the company has expanded into numerous other categories?

In the beginning, there was Pinduoduo and there was also Pinhaohuo (拼好货), which was focused solely on agricultural goods. We merged the two in 2016, and as a result, agriculture remained deeply rooted in our DNA. Even as we grew into selling other categories of goods, agriculture stayed at the forefront as a sector where we could have a large-scale impact and accelerate change.

As a technology company, we’re constantly thinking about how we can disseminate agricultural technologies to improve farmer productivity while reducing the environmental footprint of farming. By leveraging these technologies, customers can get the same product, or perhaps even one that is more nutritious, while reducing the environmental impact. Broadly, that’s how Pinduoduo thinks about agriculture, technology and sustainability.

As a platform, where can Pinduoduo have the biggest impact in the agricultural value chain?

The way agricultural products make their way to market – the distribution channel – has not yet been transformed as it has for other categories. We estimate only about 7% to 8% of the total dollar value of agricultural products transacted in a year is happening online.

That caught our attention because we know shifting online can unlock a lot of efficiencies in the supply chain. Through the Pinduoduo model, we are able to bring the produce directly from farmers to customers, cutting down on any unnecessary intermediaries in between. And by doing this, the farmer can earn more while the consumer can save more. It becomes a win-win for the producers and the consumers.

“As a technology company, we’re constantly thinking about how we can disseminate agricultural technologies to improve farmer productivity while reducing the environmental footprint of farming.”

The knock-on effect is also more prevalent now that the farmers are more plugged into the economy. This is because they have a direct sense of what their target consumers like. They can understand how consumers respond to certain pricing or packaging if there is stronger demand for large oranges versus small oranges or how demand changes throughout the year. We want to empower farmers so that they’re not just price-takers in the traditional distribution model, but instead, can be more actively involved in producing what consumers actually want. This is where we can add value and how we bring the C2M model to life.

Can you elaborate on how Pinduoduo incorporates the C2M model in its overall strategy?

In China, there is a very strong manufacturing base on the supply side. However, the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) often lack the expertise and insights to create distinctive brand identities and value propositions that connect with their consumers. Thus, we are coming up with new ways to enable domestic producers to leverage their own IP, understand consumer needs and create products and brands that resonate with the market.

Our New Brands Initiative, launched in late 2018, is one way we are bringing this to life. We have dedicated vertical specialists who work with manufacturers from each category, sharing emerging market and consumer trends with the goal of turning manufacturers from OEMs to Original Brand Manufacturers (OBMs). Based on these category trends as well as their own merchant data we provide via the platform, merchants are able to adjust their offerings accordingly and consider how to upgrade their marketing. That’s also where brand building begins. Brands can’t be everything to everyone, so by providing insights and narrowing the focus, C2M can help manufacturers develop their own value propositions and their own brands.

China has the benefit of having one of the highest levels of penetration of e-commerce. This speeds everything up, from product development to pricing to SKU assortment, by allowing manufacturers to get feedback in real-time.

Can you give a few examples of some of the initiatives Pinduoduo is undertaking in terms of innovation?

Pinduoduo is training a new generation of agri-entrepreneurs. In the past five years, we’ve trained one hundred thousand “new farmers,” a younger, more educated generation that is migrating back to their hometowns, and we’re committed to training one hundred thousand more. These are the ones who are managing the storefront, packaging, customer service and distribution and at the same time, they are also mobilizing the rest of their rural communities to join them in the digital economy. We bring business expertise via online and offline classes and then partner with institutions such as China Agricultural University to teach agricultural knowledge. Through these agri-entrepreneurs, we’re hoping to start improving the branding of agricultural goods in China, which is very undeveloped.

Our long-term goal is to bring in more upstream, purpose-led innovation. We’re in year two of hosting the Smart Agriculture Competition. We bring together global technology teams with backgrounds in AI, machine learning and plant science to compete against traditional, premium horticulture teams. We then put these teams in a smart greenhouse that they control remotely using IoT, monitoring the plants and making precise adjustments whenever needed. In last year’s competition, the AI teams produced three times as many strawberries and generated 76% higher ROI compared to the traditional teams. Not only was it very impressive to the farmers, but some of the technology experts also went on to work with the farmers after the competition. The Smart Agriculture Competition creates an opportunity to test the teams’ technologies on a bigger scale. At the same time, the farmers benefit from the efficiencies and see the real-world impact.

Pinduoduo has referred to itself as a “Costco+Disney” concept. Can you elaborate on what this means and how it guides Pinduoduo’s innovation and strategy?

The Costco+Disney concept ties in with Pinduoduo’s slogan: More Savings, More Fun (多实惠,多乐趣). The Costco part, “more savings,” comes from our early insight that we could get more value for money by aggregating demand. The Disney part, “more fun,” speaks to people’s desire for a social shopping experience.

We designed Pinduoduo to be very interactive. The app offers a social connection that helps users discover things more easily compared to the traditional e-commerce model, which is very individualistic. The “team purchase” model is a big part of the social element. Livestreaming serves as another interactive element, which helps build trust between consumers and merchants. It allows them to see how things are made, how it looks, which helps consumers feel closer to the producers, creating trust.


FINAL THOUGHTS

We don’t want shopping to feel like a chore. We want it to be a fun part of your daily routine. Within the e-commerce industry, we’ve achieved one of the highest engagement rates in terms of monthly active users and daily active users. By emphasizing more savings and more fun, we’ve found a way for users to engage willingly and regularly.

Learn how your organization could drive innovation through a purpose-driven approach. Contact us today!

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The Importance of a Collaborative Product Design Process

Design may be a team sport, but most companies need guidelines to make collaboration more effective.

Fostering cross-department and client collaboration in projects are critical through the design process to keep teams motivated, clients engaged and to ensure the forward momentum of the project. Such an approach also reduces friction and contributes to the well-being of the team.

At Prophet, our one-team approach is encouraged in all engagements with start-ups through to big corporations. The conclusion we’ve been able to draw is that the design and innovation process gains real momentum and buy-in with the involvement of cross-functional collaboration. But every organization is different and creating that space to empower teams is a frequently faced challenge, along with accessing stakeholders for decision-making and bringing the wider team along on the journey.

“The design and innovation process gains real momentum and buy-in with the involvement of cross-functional collaboration.”

Read on as we break down what collaborative design is, the benefits and offer our tips to encourage collaboration and foster creativity.

What is Collaborative Design?

Collaborative design is the process of designing as a team. Great products and experiences aren’t created in a vacuum. A diversity of profiles is needed, from designers, analysts, researchers, and product managers, fusing their talents and expertise leads to the creation of something truly meaningful and something that genuinely connects business and user needs.

The Benefits of Product Design Collaboration

There are many reasons why great products need great collaboration, here’s some of them:

  • Shared goal or vision – all team members are kept well informed and on the same page throughout the process.
  • Creative and innovative solutions – gathering feedback and considering diverse perspectives from a variety of specialized skillsets enable next-level solutions.
  • It gives everyone a voice – collaboration is good for culture too. It helps to instill democracy within your creative process and signals that all voices matter.
  • Greater buy-in – if you create a process where everybody has greater agency in contributing input, it makes it harder for team members to disengage.
  • Saves time – continuous and open communication prevents misunderstandings and costly revisions so that the product can be brought to the development stage sooner.

A 6-Step Guide to Organize and Improve the Collaborative Design Process

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Prophet_Collaborative_Product_Design_Process

Our Top Tips to Get Started

1. Cross-Function Teaming

The team is everything, and the more disciplines involved, the more robust the ideation, feedback and iteration. Even better, create a cross-level team, a good idea can come from anywhere.

2. Problem First

Focus on the problem first and be flexible on how you get to the solution. Align with the team on the outcomes that you are trying to drive and let the team be flexible with the process.

3. A Flat Planet

Design is a team sport, and with that, the team should be empowered to move, design and dictate the course of the project. A hierarchical approach will slow sign-offs, meeting availabilities and permission to move forward. Empower the team, do great work.

4. Rhythm is Everything

Working together at a similar pace is key. Set a cadence that works for the project and the team’s wellbeing. Consider the teams’ lifestyles as they are as – if not more – important as the project plan itself.

5. Team Health

Carve out the space and time to run team retrospectives and have open conversations about team health.  At Prophet, our teams use a framework called SCARFS – standing for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness and Sustainability – to help guide those conversations. Every week, each team member rates how they feel on each factor on a scale between one and five. This is critical to understand the health of the project and the team. Often this moment of reflection will provide a deeper insight to refine the process for upcoming sprints.

6. A Vision of the Future

Have a brave vision of the future, challenge the team to look beyond the project and deeply question the future state and impact that the work will have.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Collaborative design should be standard practice through the product creation process with a focus on solving a true user need. Done right, design collaboration empowers everyone involved with the mindset and process to come together and build a better product – even the best specialist can’t design great products alone, that’s why collaboration is so fundamental.

If you need help on how to adopt or improve your design collaboration workflow or approach to product design, get in touch with our Innovation & Experience experts today.

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The Four Digital and Innovation Trends Unlocking New Growth Opportunities in Southeast Asia

From digital healthcare to social commerce, new internet users are ready to embrace technology.

Over 40 million people in Southeast Asia (SEA) went online for the first time during the pandemic, bringing active Internet users in the region to 400 million [1], according to Google’s e-Conomy SEA 2020 report. This represents a 60% increase from 2015, and a 70% internet penetration rate of the region’s 580 million population, as well as a $100 billion worth of Internet economy.

In the past year, we have seen many new norms and many changed customer habits. To better understand the trends that have transformed the digital landscape in SEA and the implications for brands to maintain their relevance, we interviewed four key marketing and digital experts across the region.

Four Trends Shaping the Future of Digital and Innovation

1. Growth of Digital Healthcare

The pandemic exposed the fragile public healthcare system and scarcity of healthcare professionals for patients in underserved and rural areas. To fill this care gap, many are turning to telemedicine, increasing its demand. Two examples of the surge of telemedicine are Indonesian start-ups Alodokter and Halodoc, which link patients with physicians for online health consultations all from the comfort of their homes. These start-ups and many others have shown robust growth as citizens in remote, rural areas are becoming more aware of their need for quality healthcare and as governments begin to recognize telemedicine start-ups as an official care resource for citizens.

Looking more broadly, we expect the continued growth of digital healthcare solutions as health and wellness remains a top priority for customers, impacting their choices around self-care and their expectations towards their interactions with brands.

“The pandemic made us rethink the real part of our business – helping people get their health checked and making sure they were claiming right. And so, we realized that we need to enable all of our sellers to proactively reach out to people digitally.”  

– Ms. Jenn Villalobos

2. The Rise of Contactless and Digital Payments

Contactless became a new norm during the height of the pandemic. As a result, new, contactless services have seen substantial growth and adoption by major brands across SEA. For example, local food delivery companies such as GrabFood have evolved their services to better address customer needs, by giving customers the flexibility to schedule contactless delivery in advance.

Alongside contactless services, digital payments are expanding as customers increasingly forgo cash to avoid physical contact. This trend was accelerated when brands increased their implementation of cashless payments for their services. This led to non-cash transactions growing rapidly across the region. For example, GCash by Mynt and PayMaya by PLDT expanded to enable digital contactless payments in public taxis in the Philippines. In Vietnam, the number of mobile payment transactions grew by nearly 200% during their lock-down period. Additionally, e-wallets such as ZaloPay, Momo, and Grab-backed Moca also experienced high rates of adoption during this period.

“People were looking for an opportunity to do banking very easily but they wanted to avoid physical interaction as much as possible, so we launched a new digital, mobile banking offering with a much better user experience and faster transaction speed than before and compared to other banks.” 

– Mr. Pahala Mansury

3. Shift Towards Social Commerce

As COVID-19 disrupts most supply chains and traditional retail channels, many SEA customers have experienced or adopted new retail channels to a varying degree. An area that largely benefited from this opportunity is social commerce. Social media has become a one-stop platform where customers can be influenced by a variety of content and subsequently shop directly or through chat rooms on Facebook, WhatsApp or Line. In fact, social commerce accounted for about 44% of SEA’s $100 billion Internet economy in 2020[2].

To serve this growing demand and overcome challenges from the pandemic, we are not only seeing major brands but also micro-businesses adopt and integrate social commerce into their business models. One example is Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority. They’re helping stalls in wet markets that are traditionally cash-only and have zero online presence online. This initiative has enabled customers to order their groceries from mom-and-pop shops remotely via Facebook and enjoy same-day delivery to their homes. We expect to see social commerce become an increasingly common practice among brands to grow their relevance and strengthen trust among customers.

“I would say social commerce is what makes a brand more relevant because it’s all about building community and trust. This is even more so in Southeast Asia.”

– Ms. Pinky Yee

4. Emergence of the New Experiential Customer

The pandemic has led to stay-at-home restrictions that forced customers to live their lives, including working, shopping, exercising and entertaining, all from home. Personalized digital experiences that seamlessly fit into the customer’s individual home routines have become increasingly important as they have fewer opportunities to interact with products and services physically. Even as stores re-open, we are seeing brands adjusting to the new normal at home by complementing their services.

For example, Indonesian ride-hailing brand GoJek accelerated the launch of GoPlay, a streaming entertainment service that offers locally personalized content such as Gossip Girl Indonesia. The growing pool of customers demanding personalized experiences at home has pushed brands to reinvent their offerings. Luxury, healthcare, food and beverage and educational experiences, for instance, are increasingly integrated into the stay-at-home lifestyle.

“As the outdoors are declining in terms of relevance, brands need to continuously think about how they can generate content that is relevant and entertaining to that family, to that side of the home lifestyle as they spend more hours at home.”

– Mr. Pahala Mansury

How to Unlock New Value to Win in SEA

The above trends create a wealth of opportunities for brands to innovate and unlock value. During times of disruption, brands need to adopt a digital transformation and innovation agenda that is both human-centric and digitally powered to align employees, customers and communities around a shared purpose and vision. While most companies turn to technology-driven optimization, technology alone does not drive the wheel of transformation, but rather, we must use technology to enable changes across all areas of the business from customer experience to marketing and sales to organizational culture in order to unlock uncommon growth.

“Instilling innovation from inside out allows companies to adapt quickly to evolving customer needs and get ahead of other competitors.”

– Mr. Alvin Neo

  • Customer experience transformation must begin from a human perspective, focusing not just on users but also business operators responsible for maintaining and improving the experience. Singapore Airlines leveraged artificial intelligence (AI), customer data and blockchain technology to deliver more personalized end-to-end experiences across its channels. As a result, Singapore Airlines was able to consistently outperform key competitor, Emirates, with the highest customer satisfaction (87%) [3]
  • Businesses need to reinvent marketing and sales by embracing customer-data strategies and omnichannel approaches to grow market share and increase loyalty and customer value. In Thailand, the iconic tricycle-riding ice cream vendor, Wall’s Man, was elevated into a new-world phenomenon by creating a new, mobile-activated service and interactive messaging with GPS tracking. Customers order ice cream by simply sending a sticker to Wall’s Man’s chatbot online. The customer data collected through its services allows Wall’s Man to manage his inventory better while providing insights through customer profiling. Despite the economic turmoil and entrance of new players, sales increased by 4% within the first two months of activation. Currently, one of three Thai Line users has joined Wall’s Man Line account, allowing a whole new generation to experience the joy of delivered ice cream [4].
  • It is also crucial for companies to approach the transformational agenda from the inside out by advancing cultures that excite top talent and continuously fuel innovation. The culture of innovation is instilled within Tokopedia, an Indonesian technology company specializing in e-commerce. Tokopedia has built a winning learning and development (L&D) ecosystem that is digital, accessible and gamified. Tokopedia’s effort in L&D was recognized by winning the “Best Companies to Work for in Asia” Award in 2020 [5]. Success in L&D has also been translated into business, with Tokopedia sustaining its position as a trailblazer in Indonesia and its CEO, William Tanuwijaya, won the Innovation Leadership Achievement Award in Indonesia from The Asian Banker in 2021.

References:

[1] According to the e-Conomy SEA 2020 research done by Google Inc., Temasek Holdings Pre. and Bain & Co., 2020 https://storage.googleapis.com/gweb-economy-sea.appspot.com/assets/pdf/e-Conomy_SEA_2020_Report.pdf

[2] The e-Conomy SEA 2020, https://storage.googleapis.com/gweb-economy-sea.appspot.com/assets/pdf/e-Conomy_SEA_2020_Report.pdf

[3] According to Roy Morgan, Jan 2020, http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/8253-csa-results-november-2019-international-airline-satisfaction-202001192349

[4] According to The State of Digital Transformation in SEA

[5] According to Nanang Chalid Blog Post, Dec 2020, https://www.nanangchalid.com/post/start-with-why-a-winning-l-d-story


FINAL THOUGHTS

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated and transformed the digital landscape in SEA, presenting opportunities for uncommon growth in this diverse, fast-growing and digitally developed region. The key to unlocking more value is approaching innovation not just by applying new digital technologies, but more importantly, innovating from the inside out across all dimensions of the organization.

To learn more about how to unlock uncommon growth in your organization, contact us today.

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The Transformation of Southeast Asia: Innovation Wins over Digital-First Customers

Leaders from Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore weigh in on the region’s unique digital readiness.

With brick-and-mortar businesses halted, supply chains crashed down and trust towards existing brands and practices shaken, opportunities for digital businesses have emerged out of the pandemic. In Southeast Asia (SEA) particularly, we have seen tremendous growth of the digital economy as customers across the region rapidly shifted to online last year.

To better understand the trends that have transformed the digital landscape in SEA and the implications for brands to maintain their relevance, we interviewed four key marketing and digital experts across the region.

The Unique Digital Culture in SEA

SEA is a huge digital market with an Internet economy projected to reach $200 billion within the next four years [1]. While the region’s excitement for digital discovery and friendly start-up climate offers many of the unique regional strengths for businesses, leaders and marketing specialists need to consider local, cultural nuances and avoid taking a monolithic approach to best capture opportunities in the region.

Here are three important cultural traits and market trends for businesses to consider:

 1. A Digital-Ready Culture

SEA is one of the world’s fastest adopters of digital transformation. This is driven by a rising power of consumption, a strong start-up climate, cheap and accessible devices and a youthful, tech-loving population that has embraced e-commerce and social media. Currently, the region has incubated over seven thousand start-ups and 12 unicorns.

Marketing towards digital and non-digital customers alike will be a more fast-moving process than it is in more developed regions, as the local consumers do not need to get rid of old practices to embrace the new. This would also be a challenge for brand specialists as customers of the region will respond quicker, requiring swifter actions towards changes.

“We are observing a youthful segment in Thailand that is extremely open to digital tools and solutions like Fintech and digital banking that other people may have concerns about.”

– Ms. Jenn Villalobos

2. Street-Based Digital Economy

Throughout SEA, micro-businesses permeate every aspect of consumers’ lives as people rely on smaller mom-and-pop shops to purchase groceries, pay bills, make transfers and more. For instance, in Thailand, small convenience stores are the starting point of the country’s digital economy. TrueMoney, one of Thailand’s biggest payment providers, partnered with convenience stores allowing users to directly top up their TrueMoney wallets by purchasing recharge cards at the stores. The TrueMoney wallet can then be used to transfer money, shop online and buy goods from the convenience store via digital payments [2]. This example, alongside many others, shows that digital innovation should complement and fit into customers’ existing consumption habits as part of the unique local culture.

3. Burgeoning MSMEs That Require E-Business Support

The rapid growth of the SEA economy is led by the burgeoning MSMEs (Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises), which employ over 80% of the workforce. However, the intrinsic characteristics of MSMEs make it difficult for these companies to benefit fully from the e-commerce ecosystem. less than 20% of such enterprises were able to benefit from the trend [3], according to International Think Tank Chairman Professor Syed Munir Khasru. Greater training and support on infrastructure, equipment and technology proficiency is required for the MSMEs to participate in the digital boom.

“Leaders and marketing specialists need to consider local, cultural nuances and avoid taking a monolithic approach to best capture opportunities in the region.”

How Global Businesses Can Innovate to Win Better in SEA

At Prophet, we believe the most relevant brands always win when people can integrate them into their everyday lives. We believe there are four major pillars in the modern approach of creating and maintaining relevance. These pillars guide brands to stay relevant and constantly on the cutting edge.

Additionally, brands must also take a localized approach to digital innovation by having a deep understanding of consumer behaviors in each of the SEA markets. By becoming customer-obsessed, pervasively innovative, ruthlessly pragmatic, distinctively inspired and locally relevant,  brands are equipped to delight customers and continue to lead their categories.

Customer Obsessed: To deliver personalization successfully requires leveraging customer data and creating a value exchange where customers provide brands access to their data in return for additional value in their product, service or experience. This results in customers receiving experiences that are individually tailored to their specific needs at a specific moment in time, which allows brands to strengthen their relevance with their target audiences.

“We are stepping into a new era of personalization known as self-customization, where customers can choose what they want for themselves and to do this we need to create a meaningful data exchange with our customers – if we are able to achieve that then we will have achieved customer obsession.”

– Mr. Alvin Neo

How to Innovate: Refresh your existing segmentation by taking an insights-focused approach. This will help your business identify opportunities for new customer engagements and data exchange to create personalized offers that deliver greater value.

Pervasively Innovative: Brands that maintain leadership does not rest on their laurels. Even as industry leaders, they push the status quo, engage with customers in new and creative ways and find new solutions to address unmet needs. This also ties in with being customer-obsessed. Brands can use their innovation to cater to their customers’ needs.

“We are viewing innovation through the eyes of the customer rather than from the company’s standpoint. It’s a completely different perspective because we aim to truly realize our customer’s needs.”

– Ms. Pinky Yee

How to Innovate: Review enterprise-wide value chains to identify a new business model and revenue opportunities that are centered on digital-first offers.

Ruthlessly Pragmatic: As COVID-19 has shaken brand loyalty for many customers, brands need to make sure their products are available where and when customers need them, deliver consistent experiences and simply make life easier for their customers. At the same time, brands need to ensure their offerings address customers’ changing priorities given the challenges posed by the pandemic, such as creating contactless, digital experiences that meet customers’ heightened awareness of their own personal health and safety.

How to Innovate: Build new online presence and direct-to-customer, O2O models that are not only frictionless but also contactless to guarantee safer, healthier interactions with customers.

Distinctively Inspired: It is important in such trying times to let customers know powerful brands and companies are giving back to the community. To stay relevant, these brands make emotional connections, earn trust and often exist to fulfill a larger purpose.

During our interview with Pinky Yee, the former CMO at Domino’s Pizza, Pinky shared the interesting case of San Miguel, who turned its gin line into hand sanitizer and donated it to local hospitals in the Philippines. This campaign has received a lot of local traction as it showed its social commitment during a time when it was needed most.

How to Innovate: Deploy resources and assets towards use cases that align your brand purpose with opportunities to give back and to deepen existing relationships with your target audiences.

Locally Relevant: With more customers trying new brands and products, we are expecting many smaller brands to benefit from such loyalty shifts. A critical factor we find in how customers make their decisions when choosing a new brand is how locally relevant a brand is.

Speaking to our experts has helped us understand that amongst big foreign multinational corporations, localization is limited or still feels disconnected from local customers. This is a key understanding to succeeding in SEA where there are a lot of different countries and each with its own cultural nuances. Marketing with the right strategic channels in every geography is also important.

How to Innovate: Develop country-specific go-to-market plans and leverage local partnerships to create localized product and experience offers that strengthen credibility and relevance with customers

References:

[1] The e-Conomy SEA 2020, https://storage.googleapis.com/gweb-economy-sea.appspot.com/assets/pdf/e-Conomy_SEA_2020_Report.pdf

[2] Deloitte “The Next Wave” Emerging digital life in South and SEA, https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/cn/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/deloitte-cn-tmt-inclusion-en-200924.pdf

[3] According to Professor Syed Munir Khasru in an opinion written for South China Morning Post, Jun 2021, https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3135868/key-aseans-post-pandemic-recovery-digital-transformation


FINAL THOUGHTS

To win in SEA, brands can pull different levers to deliver on brand relevance. At the same time, brands must also take a localized approach to digital and innovation by having a deep understanding of consumers’ digital behaviors in each unique SEA market.

To learn more about how to build brand relevance in Southeast Asia, contact us today!

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Shiseido’s Innovation Journey in China: A Conversation with Carol Zhou

This fast-growing beauty company shares insights about developing new ideas that can flourish.

In the past five years, a new generation of direct-to-consumer local disruptors has been booming in the consumer sector in China. These brands are growing at an unprecedented rate, and many have reached growth rates that are tens or even hundreds of times the industry average. They adapt and react fast to consumer trends, they’re more resourceful in leveraging platforms to explore new initiatives, and their increasing influence and marketing power are giving large international players a run for their money in the ever-fierce competition for the Chinese beauty consumers.

In the first half of 2021, Shiseido China achieved a remarkable 44% revenue growth. Shiseido’s online and offline sales both increased, in part, due to the brand’s ongoing efforts in capturing consumer trends and continued focus on brand value. Viewing China as an important source of innovation, Shiseido announced a special investment fund in August, Shiseido Beauty Innovations Fund, partnering with Boyu Capital. The investment will focus on emerging beauty and wellness brands, as well as investment opportunities in related upstream and downstream technology companies.

Recently, Tom Zhang, senior engagement manager at Prophet, and Carol Zhou, Shiseido’s senior vice president of China Business Innovation & Investment, discussed the brand’s innovation journey in the China market, insights on the domestic beauty industry and her predictions for the Chinese beauty market.

Carol Zhou

Shiseido

Senior Vice President, China Business Innovation & Investment

Carol has served as head of Shiseido’s China Business Innovation & Investment since early 2019. With China’s diversified business ecosystem as a backdrop, Carol is committed to accelerating innovation and uncovering new business models to drive growth for Shiseido on a global scale, positioning the brand as a global leader in beauty innovation.

Before Shiseido, Carol has held numerous senior management positions in multinational companies including Unilever, L’Oreal, Amway, Burberry and Marriott International, where she has built brands across regions and business domains. Carol attended New York University’s Stern School of Business and holds an MBA degree from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

From your perspective, what are the key trends in China’s beauty industry in the next two to three years?

Currently, China’s beauty consumers are in a phase of exploration. As consumers become more sophisticated, they will be more knowledgeable in terms of ingredients and the science behind the brands. Increasingly, customers will no longer blindly believe in marketing stories but do their own research and look toward experts with real data. We will see more brands working with medical authorities, such as research institutions, doctors and scientists to lead the development of the industry and consumers from the perspective of scientific ingredients and formulas. I see a movement toward dermatologist brands and products/services.

Next, the trend of personalization will continue to develop. Although technology and regulations are temporarily limiting, and the product experience and user journey are not yet perfected, I believe that personalization is the future direction of skincare. Everyone is unique and our skincare should be too. Many brands are already customizing their products and services with this in mind, and I see tremendous development in the future. With advancements in digital and gene tech, the future for a personalized experience and product design is limitless.

Health and wellness, propelled by COVID-19, is becoming top of mind for consumers around the world. There will be further integration of topical skincare with the ingestible to provide a holistic beauty approach for consumers.

In the face of these opportunities, how can Shiseido lead innovation?

In the two and a half years since I joined Shiseido, the strategy has evolved. In the beginning, we aimed to broadly explore new trends and opportunity areas. Now, we are doing a detailed audit of Shiseido’s strengths, and identifying the intersection of market white spaces and organizational capabilities to better seize these opportunities.

Take the aesthetic medicine category as an example. Shiseido, as an industry leader, can play an important role in the development of this field. However, we will not focus on businesses that are clearly beyond our organizational core capabilities, such as injection-based medical devices. But we can explore how to integrate Shiseido into the overall aesthetic medicine ecosystem by innovating around the subcategory of postoperative recovery with products and/or services.

“Influential innovations come from improving upon existing consumer values, leading to improved experiences and ideas.”

Speaking of personalization, it is actually deeply rooted in Shiseido’s innovative DNA. More than 100 years ago in 1917, Shiseido launched the 7 Colors Powder, a face powder product that consumers could mix and match to achieve a refined look based on their unique complexions. We are also actively exploring personalized beauty devices and services. With the ongoing advancement of technology, we will continue to optimize the experience, providing specialized and convenient smart devices and genetic-level skin diagnoses in the future.

Nutricosmetics (beauty foods) is another area that we are focused on. Japan’s healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet are highly renowned around the world. Shiseido can dial up this advantage and share with Chinese consumers our innovation based on superfoods and functional ingredients.

The evolution of China’s digital ecosystem can be described as boundless. How do you view the opportunities and challenges faced by brands?

The digital ecosystem undoubtedly provides fuel for brand incubation and innovation, but it also brings about a crisis of “involution.” Many brands have a “cash-burning” marketing strategy, hiring influencers to promote the brand, giving away massive discounts. The focus is purely on marketing, while the product quality and true consumer value are secondary. The result is a bunch of products with similar benefits and features, almost the same ingredients and me-too packaging. The growth is often purely driven by new customer acquisition, and when the cash runs out, the consumers will not return either. This vicious cycle makes it more difficult for the brands to reach profitability and create any long-lasting value.

To truly gain a foothold in the market, brands must clearly define their unique value propositions – what is the “WHY.” This is the problem that many emerging brands face today.

What advice do you have for these brands?

I believe we need to return to the fundamentals and think about what is truly unique about the brand. Why do they exist? The value of a brand must go beyond purely marketing tactics.

Shiseido’s ability to have lasting success is in large part due to our dedication to creating the best quality products to meet consumer needs. This dedication to “craftsmanship” is why we don’t blindly follow market trends, but rather think critically about how we can further refine our products. Although we may not always be at the forefront of trends, we have found the right pace to create a timeless brand.

In leading international beauty giants to drive innovation in China, how do you balance “China speed” with global collaboration?

Based on my own experience in the global headquarters, regional headquarters and China business units of various brands, the tension between them is inevitable. An international brand must have consistency and a global strategy. Then the regions (China) will execute this global vision with local adaptation and interpretation that suit the local appeal. Oftentimes, local regions will complain that they need more local decision-making autonomy, while global headquarters want to maintain more control. The conflict, if managed well, can be healthy. Clear and constant communication allows local teams to coordinate with headquarters in a more streamlined manner while educating headquarters on local market situations. It also allows the teams to improve their critical thinking and decision-making abilities.

How do you promote a culture of innovation within Shiseido?

First, I need to start with my own team. I believe it is very important to create a more inclusive, open and flexible working environment and experience. In addition to more flexible working hours and locations, I strongly encourage the team to learn from outside their fields, to learn more about the world outside of their areas of expertise. Sometimes, finding a team is like finding a romantic partner – you need to seek mutual understanding and complementary attributes.

To me, innovation or any critical agenda needs to start at the top. Therefore, I need to make sure my management team understands and believes in the local innovation culture and mechanism as much as possible, in order to have a greater impact and more effectively promote innovation internally.

Lastly, based on your experience, what do you think are the most common “innovation pitfalls” that brands should avoid?

A common misunderstanding is that true innovation is always something breakthrough, from 0 to 1. But in fact, more influential innovations come from improving upon existing consumer values, leading to improved experiences and ideas. Always remind yourself what is the true consumer value and the “WHY” behind it.


FINAL THOUGHTS

By analyzing and auditing its strengths and weaknesses, companies can better explore new trends and opportunity areas. The goal is to find potential intersections of market white spaces and organizational capabilities.

To learn more about how to create meaningful innovation and experiences for your organization, contact us now.

WEBCAST

Webinar Replay: Innovation as a Future Growth Driver for Singapore

The pandemic is changing the role of innovation. SGInnovate’s CEO explains how that plays out in Singapore.

58 min

Innovation is the cornerstone of business growth today. Figuring out the right formula results in big ideas and opens the door to new business opportunities. In this webinar, our expert speakers, Jacqueline Alexis Thng, Partner of Prophet, and Dr. Lim Jui, CEO of SGInnovate, discuss how innovation is driving future growth in Singapore.

Watch to learn:

  • How SGInnovate is driving innovation and investing in Deep Tech (newly researched, frontier technologies) in Singapore
  • The essentials of open innovation, including its benefits and best practices
  • The impact of coronavirus and the future of innovation

Download the presentation here.

To learn more about how to create winning innovations that grab customers’ attention at once, download our latest whitepaper High-Concept Thinking: 6 Ways To Create Striking Innovations.

REPORT

High-Concept Thinking: 6 Ways To Create Striking Innovations

A high concept creates clarity about an idea, making sure it’s developed and delivered as originally intended.

How To Find (and Keep) Your Competitive Edge in Innovation

Innovation is the cornerstone of business growth today. Figuring out the right formula results in big ideas and opens the door to new business opportunities. ‘High-concept’ thinking is what’s separating successful innovators from the rest of the field. A high concept creates clarity about an innovative idea and ensures the idea is developed and delivered as originally intended.

In this report, our Experience & Innovation practice outlines how to take your innovation strategy to the next level with high-concept thinking.

Read this report to learn: 

  • The definition and key traits of high-concept thinking
  • How high-concept thinking can help re-center how your company thinks about innovation
  • The six critical ways high concepts are used for innovation
  • Examples of successful high concepts in practice

Download the full report below.

Download High-Concept Thinking For Box Office Innovation

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Thank you for your interest in Prophet’s research!

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Mastering Business Complexity Through Experience-Led Solutions

Moving forward requires separating complex problems from those that are merely complicated.

The last decade has seen accelerated business change more than any time before. The maturity of connected technology, the scale of global growth and the breadth of new business models have delivered a wholly different set of opportunities for businesses to work through. Most large enterprise businesses are evolutions and conglomerations of 20th-century industries that efficiently solved complicated problems around scaled development, distribution, price and marketing. 

While these attributes may have conquered vertical integration and built resiliency at one time, today, they are no longer sufficient to address the business issues of our connected markets and empowered consumers. This is even more evident now in a post-pandemic world. Businesses in 2021 are being challenged by interdependent complex issues and new delivery models, which require an experience-led approach to problem-solving. 

The Critical Difference Between Complicated and Complex Business Problems  

Understanding the difference between a complicated and complex business problem is crucial. Before a problem can be managed effectively, it must be recognized for what it is. If you manage complex things as if they are merely complicated, you’re likely setting your company up for failure.  

So, what is the difference between a complicated 20th-century business problem and a complex 21st-century business problem?  

Complicated problems are hard but can be resolved through systematic reasoning and processes. With complicated problems, you often can identify the constituent parts, optimize each individually and deliver value across a solution. Clear, MECE and broadly applicable. Whether that was global supply chains, optimizing manufacturing or franchising service experiences, the goal has been to optimize elements in the process to improve the bottom line and create efficient scaled solutions.   

Complex problemson the other hand, involve many unknowns and are created when different actors and systems interact in a way that can result in unexpected cause-effect scenarios. These can be as distinctive as looking to improve retail employee career support globally, building a green energy marketplace or delivering home health care for people with chronic conditions.  

Dealing with such complex problems requires a more nuanced approach, including firsthand knowledge of how different incentives and constraints within a network of actors might adjust the experience for the people you are looking to deliver value for. This type of work cannot easily be strategized or architected from afar. Instead, it requires individuals to be active in the participation and immersion of the experience to identify the user needs, craft insightful hypotheses, test their ideas in the real world, thoughtfully measure outcomes and iterate.  

“Applying a 20th-century solution approach to a complex 21st-century problem will invariably fail to account for all the conditions, levers and expectations of the people involved.”

Recently we worked with a large retailer to help them understand the opportunity to create a B2B prosumer offering. Through interviews and testing, we realized that a major improvement to attracting and retaining customers in this new audience required better data-driven services for their front-line employees. Through rapid prototyping in coordination with their employees, we developed a new inventory interface, tested with real customers, and operationalized this in under 12 weeks to unlock a new experience and expand the share of wallet with a new audience. 

Business Problems Today Need a More Resilient, Experience-Led Approach to Solve Them 

Applying a 20th-century solution approach to a complex 21st-century problem will invariably fail to account for all the conditions, levers and expectations of the people involved. The focus should be less on knowing the answer and more on understanding the opportunity deeply. It is the best time to innovate. It is the worst time to stand still. 

Taking an experience-led approach to problem-solving helps businesses to:  

  • Achieve desired outcomes
  • Build business value by finding new ways to delight users with solutions that are fit for purpose
  • Capture better intelligence and awareness of the context in which users are interacting 
  • Solve for non-obvious needs that create greater value for the user

Ultimately, an experience-led approach to problem-solving helps you to deeply understand a complex environment and context in order to iterate a solution that delivers against multiple needs. Companies are better positioned to thoughtfully understand what needs people have and deliver more impactful experiences as a result. 

We worked with a large healthcare company to identify new product offerings for a very complex set of patients. In working with the customers and the client’s customer support team, we found that many services that were meaningful fell into categories like supporting the caregivers, coordinating third-party care services and restorative care for the families of patients. This insight led us to develop a more holistic product offering through partnerships instead of relying on the client to build or own all the capabilities and still monetize a product. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

More Businesses Need to Become Outcome Obsessed 

You have probably heard the phrase of focusing on ‘outcomes over outputs’. However, focusing on what a great outcome looks and feels like for the user, helps us to think more broadly on all the contexts we can use to design experiences and products. In a world where better, cheaper and quicker is not enough, focusing on outcomes helps us to frame opportunities that are inspirational instead of simply tactical.  

This is a fundamental shift in focus for many. It brings with it a lot of baggage in questioning the norms and constraints that we have worked under for centuries – and that have underpinned the development of, what by all rights, is a successful society. We are no longer judged on only what we can deliver and if it was functional, but if it was impactful and delightful for the user. When we help companies create new business offerings, or reinvent their existing product capabilities, our goal is to make sure we are not just optimizing for complicated issues but developing muscles to compete in an increasingly complex environment. 

Prophet’s Experience & Innovation practice can help you to underpin a rigorous approach to business problem-solving. Get in touch here 

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Five Winnovation Factors to Drive Innovation Excellence in Asia

Look for new ideas that are high concept, more familiar than strange, and end-to-end human.

As we step off the Coronacoaster and onto (what we hope is) a new Roaring 2020s joyride, it’s critical that businesses innovate in ways that leverage how echoes of the pandemic will remain endemic in the future.

As always, the winners have been the most innovative in responding to changing market dynamics and consumer needs – putting momentum behind ideas that create the most sales energy, scaling production when the time is right, demonstrating cultural resilience in sometimes plummeting conditions and showing agility through the loop-de-loops of competition.

Innovation Changes Our Lives

The history of humankind is the history of innovation. Where would we be without fire? Or the light bulb, now the universal icon of innovation? Or the internet? We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but it would be nice to spin out the next Uber. Or perhaps, an upgrade from the past – like switching from paper money to credit cards to QR code payments.

Innovation is Hard

There are oodles of stats on the subject, and the numbers aren’t pretty – about 90% of innovations fail soon after launch. But when you take a closer look, it seems many of these failures suffer from self-inflicted wounds. Far too often, failed innovations are simply failing to answer enough basic questions: What is it? Who is it for? When is it for? Where is it for? How is it different? Why should I buy it?

Technology Moves Fast, Human Needs Change Slowly

As we think about better ways to innovate, we need to be careful to avoid the speed trap between the evolution of human needs and a revolution of solutions.

Innovators need to be out in front of the public, or else they aren’t innovating. But innovators also need to create an intelligible bridging story if the innovations they’re pimping are way out there.

Be Mindful of How Cultural Context Comes into Play

Across cultures, whether or not innovative ideas translate is also being put to the test. In Asia, for instance, we have seen countless big ideas that have been massively successful in the west, such as Amazon, Uber or Groupon, fail miserably, getting replaced and outpaced by local competitors after struggling to adapt to the local culture and consumers. In contrast, Starbucks, Walmart, and Airbnb have reimagined themselves vigorously and relentlessly.

“Winnovation factors work even better when accompanied by the other innovation frameworks, exercises and approaches we have up our (rolled up) sleeves.”

The 5 Winnovation Factors

Prophet works with enlightened innovators of all shapes and sizes across a spectrum of categories and markets. We’ve distilled what we’ve learned from our work (and what we’ve observed to work in the marketplace) into five winnovation factors.

The fab five should NOT be thought of as a super-strict checklist, but instead, be thought of as guidance towards creating winning innovations. They work individually and collectively to raise an organization’s innovation game to a higher probability of success. They do it all from informing answers to basic buyer questions to inspiring disruptive ideas that surf pop-culture tsunamis.

  •  High Concept
  •  New Platform Development
  •  Multiple Needgasms
  •  80:20 Familiar:Strange
  •  Human End-to-End

High Concept

Innovation should be rooted in an intuitive High Concept that helps people understand what innovation is all about…in an engaging way. High Concepts are often expressed through name and/or design elements.

Facebook (2004) turned the page to a new chapter of social media, with its concept of becoming a “Book of Your Life.” WeChat (2011), prior to reaching super-app status, first gained traction as a messaging platform connecting people. Its Chinese name, 微信, also reflects its concept clearly – “micro message.”

The High Concept definition says it all: A simple and often striking idea or premise, as of a story or film, that lends itself to easy promotion and marketing. What could be better than striking ideas and easy marketing? High-concept thinking is a powerful concept for innovation.

New Platform Development

Changing the NPD game from new product development to new platform development means treating innovation as a living system that spans (and spawns) multiple products and/or services.

Oreo (1912) kept its cookie dynasty from crumbling over the years by flexing a dynamic platform system that innovates with a defined set of variables – ranging from the dimensions of the outer sandwich to the amount and flavor of the cream filling. Pop Mart (2010) thought inside the box to turn a simple toy into endless opportunities for surprise, by selling its trademark dolls in “blind boxes” and collaborating with artists and brands to constantly create new collectibles.

Whenever you innovate something new to the world, treat it as a platform that can be leveraged in a variety of ways for future growth from the get-go.

Multiple Needgasms

Many contemporary innovations are one-upping their unique selling proposition ancestors. Increasingly, new innovations are purpose-built to (over) deliver against multiple needs to elicit mind-blowing experiences from the jump.

Beverage company Genki Forest (元气森林) (2016) quenches Chinese consumers’ thirst for healthy drinks that still taste delicious. Their sparkling water boasts 0 sugar, 0 fat, and 0 calories, comes in a wide range of flavors and is topped off with sleekly designed packaging.

‘Multi’ is the new ‘uni’…‘and’ is the new ‘or’.

80:20 Familiar:Strange

Most consumers want a twist on the known in their innovations. If something is too familiar, there isn’t much reason to buy it. If something is too strange, mass consumers will reject it as something only good for freaks.

Take the salted egg yolk, a traditional staple across many Asian cuisines. In recent years, the flavor has hatched a number of new products that consumers are crazy about, from IRVINS Salted Egg Potato Chips (2015) to McDonald’s Salted Egg Yolk Loaded Fries (2019).

The innovation advice on the 80:20 factor should feel strangely familiar. If an innovation is highly familiar, add some strangeness. If an innovation is strange, make it feel more familiar.

Human End-to-End

Innovations are no longer thought about simply as isolated goods. Instead, they’re increasingly thought of as end-to-end systems in time and space. The best of these systems recognizes the human front and center in the ‘end to end.’

Apple (1976) pips most lifestyle tech companies to the post with a well-designed alpha and omega innovation experience play. There’s an appealing unboxing ritual when you buy a new product, and the company will often take your old product off your hands (literally) and apply its value against the price of this year’s model. One of China’s leading electric car manufacturers, NIO (2015), powers its community through its NIO Life sub-brand. The online platform enables car owners to chat with one another, sign up for exclusive events, and use NIO credits to buy everything from suitcases to cereal, shifting the car ownership experience to one that is all-encompassing and owner-centric.

When it comes to the end-to-end in your innovation…just do it.


FINAL THOUGHTS

The More Winnovation Factors, The Better Likelihood of Success

There you have it, now you know the winnovation factors. So, it’s time to start using them. Remember, they aren’t Pokemon (1998) – you haven’t ‘gotta catch ‘em all.’ But in general, the more winnovation factors you have in innovation the more likely it is to be successful.

Prophet applies winnovation factors across a wide range of categories, including products, services and new business models. They’re proven to make a difference in incremental product improvements and breakthrough category disruptions. They make a difference in innovation that lives in the physical world and innovation that lives in the digital world…and in innovation that lives in the hybrid phygital world.

The winnovation factors work. And the winnovation factors work even better when accompanied by the other innovation frameworks, exercises and approaches we have up our (rolled up) sleeves.

Want to learn more about how to increase your organization’s innovation capacity? Click to download ‘Innovation in a Post Pandemic World: The Critical Traits of a Truly Enlightened Company’

If you’re looking for an innovation partner to raise your game, we’d love to talk. Get in touch today!

REPORT

Winnovation Factors: Five Criteria for Innovation Excellence

Working with intensely nimble companies, we’ve distilled five essential factors for innovation.

Transform from innovation laggard to innovation leader

The pandemic disrupted business operations in ways leaders could not have possibly imagined. Forward-looking companies used this as a catalyst for innovation, to digitize services, fast-track disruptive products, or access new markets – but there were many who fell short. The appetite for innovation is far from slowing and the urgency for businesses to continue to flex their innovation muscle has never been greater. To avoid the risk of slipping behind, ill-prepared for the next crisis, companies need to be putting innovation front and center now to ensure they seize the seeds of opportunity and prosper in a post-pandemic world.

Prophet works with high-performing, innovation-driven companies of all shapes and sizes across a spectrum of categories and markets. There’s a lot other companies can learn from their approaches and attributes. We’ve distilled what we’ve discovered from our work into a set of five essential factors that are present, either in part or in full, at those nimble companies reaping the benefits of innovation-driven success.

Want to unleash innovation-driven growth and build resilience for your business? Read the five criteria for innovation excellence here.

Prophet’s Experience & Innovation practice can help you to underpin a superior approach to innovation to help you realize your ambitions, get in touch

REPORT

The Critical Traits of an Innovative Company in a Post-Pandemic World

To stay relevant, Innovation can’t stop now. The future depends on a steady stream of new ideas.

It’s the best of times to innovate. It’s the worst of times to stand still.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for innovation and accelerated change with many companies forced to adapt business models and develop, deliver and scale new products, services and processes rapidly in order to remain relevant and sustain competitive advantage. Innovation can’t stop now. The future success of any company depends on its ability to continually innovate.

In this report, our Experience & Innovation practice outlines what’s required for a company to become a serial innovator, one that can not only survive but also thrive in our disruptive world.

Read this report to learn: 

  • Why innovation is imperative now
  • The seven traits of a truly innovative company – impacting how (and how well) an organization sets itself up to innovate
  • Where your company sits on our Innovation Grading Model
  • How to be an enlightened innovator for the times ahead

Download the full report below.

Download High-Concept Thinking For Box Office Innovation

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Thank you for your interest in Prophet’s research!

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19 Ways COVID-19 Is Shaping the Future of Innovation

It’s not all masks and sanitizers. The “coronocoaster” is spawning many valuable new ideas.

Necessity is the mother of innovation. And the ‘coronacoaster’ we’ve been riding has given birth to blue Skype thinking as businesses have stepped up and strapped in. As always, the winners have been the most innovative in responding to changing market dynamics and consumer needs – putting momentum behind ideas that create the most sales energy, scaling production when the time is right, demonstrating cultural resilience in sometimes plummeting conditions and showing agility through the loop-de-loops of competition. 

As we step off the ‘coronacoaster’ and onto (what we hope is) a new Roaring 2020s joyride, it’s critical that businesses innovate in ways that leverage how echoes of the pandemic will remain endemic in the future. The post-demic perspectives we’ve provided aren’t necessarily prophecies, but they are informed by recent Prophet thinking (and doing). Some are old trends that have been potentiated by the virus. Others are new to the scene as a result of the virus. 

So, pour yourself a stiff quarantini and let’s have a malaproper look at nineteen ways COVID-19 is shaping the future of innovation.

1. Birth of Distance 

Space has always been a luxury (especially in service categories), but social distancing has made it a necessity. Expect new environmental innovations that create psychological space as well as physical distance. Expect more in the way of exclusive boxes at events, private dining rooms in restaurants, etc. and other innovations so there is less ‘stranger danger’ from others in one’s immanent domain. 

2. Heal.thy 

There’s nothing like a global disease outbreak to get people to think more about ‘thy’ own health. Expect to see more innovation that plays to real or perceived health and healing from angles ranging from ancient homeopathic wisdom to lab-based neutraceuticals. Even naughty categories like alcoholic beverages are tapping into this trend through watered-down alt liquids and lower proof points that feel healthier to consumers.

3. @Home 

People have been increasing the amount of time they’ve been spending in their homes for some time now (Faith Popcorn coined the term ‘cocooning’ 40 years ago), but the pandemic has created a step-change in making more bodies homebodies. People want to continue to feel at home (especially in times of crisis), so expect to see more demand for home comfort innovations in the coming decade – creating a sense of ‘home sweet home’ instead of a feeling of house arrest. 

4. Mask.aura 

Masks were the fashion accessory of 2020 – and mascara was the beauty product of the year because eyes are visible above the mask. Think about other innovations that help consumers look (and feel) their best in times of potential lockdowns and coverups. What innovations can help consumers manage their self-presentation aura? 

5. Ment.all 

The stresses and strains of being locked up during lockdown are making all types of people more mindful of their mental health. We expect more neurons to fire in this direction as the decade progresses. Innovations that help people manage their day-to-day mental health and/or take their peak performance to a limitless level are a no-brainer. People are going mental for apps, like Happify, to train their brains for positivity. 

6. Mod.u.larity 

Companies and consumers alike need an innovative way to deal with public policy capriciousness. Modularity is part of an ever-adapting answer. Goods and services that serve us well should have the option of being switched on and off and/or sized up and down on-demand. Driving less today? Your insurance bill stays in first gear. More people in your business tomorrow? Your cleaning service rolls in harder and heavier. 

7. Pan.skilling 

The pandemic has required companies and consumers to upskill and reskill in a panoply of ways. The next generation of innovators will be pan-skilled in a way that flexes with agility. We expect new forms of learning innovation to help organizations and individuals to develop these pan-skills. 

8. Part.icipation 

Many companies have experienced mixed results with highly collaborative innovation approaches. We are consistently seeing more effective results by focusing collaborative participation on the most important parts of an innovation process instead of dragging everyone through the end-to-end journey. Think about it as a ‘minimum viable participation’ model to accompany ‘minimum viable product’ design thinking. 

9. Phygital 

Phygital fuses the best of the physical world with the best of the digital world. More advanced phygital experiences are increasingly being demanded as a result of our enhanced sophistication with the digital world under lockdown. The best phygital innovations deliver the 3Is — immediacy, immersion and interaction. The PS5 is becoming more phygital through the augmented haptics it delivers while a gamer is immersed in a digital world. The Nike flagship store in NYC is a phygital temple designed to navigate with your phone – If you like something you see on a mannequin, just scan it and someone runs it over it to you. When it comes to phygital innovation, just do it. 

10. Pivotry 

To ensure a steady stream of dollars in a fluxed-up decade, businesses need to pivot on a dime. Be prepared to rapidly innovate into spaces that are close (enough) to your core competencies and are reachable with a sensible stretch. The way dine-in pivoted to take-out, fast fashion pivoted to masks and ‘essential retailers’ started selling dubious essentials that consumers couldn’t get (offline) elsewhere. 

“It’s critical that businesses innovate in ways that leverage how echoes of the pandemic will remain endemic in the future.”

11. Pop-Ups 

Prime urban real estate is increasingly un or under-occupied. Nature abhors a vacuum and landlords abhor an empty property. We expect more and more innovative business models (and office space for businesses) to be strutting down pop-up catwalks designed with quickie contracts for ephemeral experiences and short-term shops. Here today, there tomorrow. 

12. Purposeful 

Many people woke up during the pandemic and continue to respond well to products and services that demonstrate a full commitment to a purpose – from beauty brands that are more than skin deep to socialpreneurs transforming the meaning of BOGOF to ‘buy one, GIVE one free’. Consider how your innovations can cause a stir with consumers via genuine links with a positive cause. 

13. Screen Standout 

With more shopping moving from the real world to the virtual world and word of mouth becoming the word of thumb, screen stand out is becoming more important than shelf standout. Innovations need to be designed with colors, shapes and materials that look fab on the small screen. Hero beauty shots should eliminate the shopper marketing clutter seen on many packs these days (it isn’t legible on small screens anyway) leaving only ‘extraordinary elements’ and ‘incisive information’ on screen-optimized designs. 

14. Sir.valence 

Big Brother is increasingly accepted if he helps ensure everyone is complying for the collective good. Surveillance and compliance innovation is expected to be built into a host of people processing systems that provide ‘certain.fication certificates’ of a clean bill of health. This will mean a smoother flow of human capital around the world (or around the neighborhood). But Taylorist employers will be counting keystrokes as WFH becomes less of a WTF. 

15. Social.learning 

People are social animals and social networking marched on with a tech-tonic shift during the pandemic. To be successful in the future, all innovations need to learn how to take full advantage of social platforms. Ensure your innovations are leveraging the latest in social seduction and consummation technology to always be within thumbs reach of desire. 

16. Surthrivalism 

Survivalists must be feeling a bit smug about their readiness for the pandemic. Expect more innovation to help people go beyond surviving to thriving in case of further untoward world events. Our 21st Century Archie Bunkers may not all be building bunkers, but many will take smaller steps to honor the Boy Scout motto of ‘Be Prepared’. 

17. Suss.tainability 

Many inquisitive minds have spent their lockdown sussing out Netflix ecomentaries like Cowspiracy and have become even savvier about the importance of living sustainable lifestyles. Innovation in the coming decade needs a sustainability angle – from how it makes a material difference with the materials it uses (or doesn’t use) to the 411 on its value chain that doesn’t raise a 911 alarm. 

18. Touch.less 

People have become conditioned to taking a hands-off approach to their interactions with the outside world. This is because every touch means an opportunity to pick something up (or pass something on). Innovation should consider how to minimize the literal ‘touch-points’ in the user experience (especially for products that are shared or taken outside the home). 

19. Tr.eats 

The self-treat strategy to mood management has worked wonders during the pandemic. Many people have harnessed the new age wisdom of ‘do something nice for yourself every day’ and many of these mood (re)setting treats have been eats. New innovations that inexpensively help people give themselves a treat every day are expected to continue to go down a treat for the foreseeable future. 

Interested in increasing your innovation capacity?

Prophet’s Experience & Innovation practice can help you to underpin a superior approach to innovation to help you realize your ambitions, get in touch here. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

From “phygital” to “surthrivalism,” the pandemic continues to unleash powerful–and business-changing–new perspectives. Develop a strategy to find those with the most potential for your brands.

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