What's Next: Practical Innovation

Tanner Van Dusen is ‎Senior Vice President of Innovation at ‎EnsembleIQ, parent company of Retail Leader.

Change has always been a part of the retail and consumer goods world. The industry would not look as it does today were it not for a century of innovating, testing, learning, iterating and expanding in a relentless quest to serve shoppers’ evolving needs and preferences.

And yet, in today’s digital era, the sense of urgency feels particularly acute. There are near-daily declarations that organizations must “evolve or perish”. Leadership teams are under constant pressure to innovate and disrupt established retail paradigms before they themselves are disrupted. Shoppers are constantly being exposed to new, different, and presumably better ways of satisfying their needs. Attitudes, behaviors and expectations are evolving faster than organizations can measure. Barriers to entry are dwindling to non-existent. Startups are expending tremendous mental energy trying to dissect every aspect of the path to purchase, looking to isolate instances of friction to serve as a foundation for new business. New entrants spring to life with unprecedented speed. Investors and product development teams are already trying to predict the needs of Generation Alpha (babies born between 2010-2024).

And, while the ancient Greek philosopher Heraklit was right when he said “the only constant is change”, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Those with longer tenure in the retail world are striving to protect their competitive positioning — and, in some cases, struggling to remain relevant — in this dizzying climate. While these companies must seek breakthrough thinking and deepen their innovation pipelines, they cannot lose sight of the significant real-world challenges of monthly P&Ls, complex organizational structures, and the need to execute day-to-day operations. All can make it difficult for more established organizations to develop breakthrough thinking or even incremental improvements that can have a collectively large impact.

Some have created innovation labs where talented individuals are cordoned off to identify new opportunities, develop solutions and be in the game of inventing the future ahead of competitors. But many of our clients and partners have told us this simply isn’t feasible, especially for mid-tier or small companies with greater limitations on financial and human capital. Even if these firms recognize the need to act with urgency, many quickly discover that the beginning stages of innovation are even trickier than imagined because there are so many starting points.

And, once underway, the innovation journey becomes a bewildering maze where it is easy to become distracted by alluring new technologies and intriguing use cases. For example, the technology certainly exists for shoppers to place orders via in-home speaker or mobile device and for these orders to be packed by a robot and delivered by an autonomous vehicle. But, determining actual consumer demand and designing profitable business models for the concept are altogether different stories.

At EnsembleIQ, we frequently talk with companies who are challenged in their approach to innovation. Some have begun their journey but are worried about whether they are moving fast enough. Others have struggled to find the time, internal expertise or processes needed to guide and advance their internal innovation efforts. If you are one of these companies, you are not alone.

Every company must find their own innovation path, but from our vantage point and interactions with literally thousands of companies, the most foundational aspect is to have a defined innovation framework. All organizations need some type of innovation support infrastructure to focus on the future and designated team members who can champion the cause of innovation to senior leadership. It doesn’t have to be a lab or a department with a clever name. It may be a single individual who is tasked with ensuring there is continual thought leadership around how to keep pace — or, more optimally, stay ahead of the curve.

EnsembleIQ has a unique perspective on the rapidly evolving retail landscape and the state of industry innovation. As the parent company of Retail Leader, The Path to Purchase Institute, Progressive Grocer, Convenience Store News, Store Brands, Consumer Goods Technology, and Retail Information Systems among others, we have unmatched insight into who is doing what and, more importantly, who is doing it well.

But we are not only watching. We are also applying these insights to our own company and have committed to finding new ways to help our customers stay abreast of trends, apply best-in-class innovation frameworks and advance their internal thought leadership. The result: the launch of a new EIQ Innovation Practice. By merging new market intelligence products with custom research, consulting and facilitation capabilities, we are helping clients find faster paths to disruption through deeper understanding of retail trends, innovation case studies, best-in-class strategic frameworks and collaborative discussions among innovation thought leaders.

The digital age has made innovation both thrilling and daunting. We are committed to being a valuable partner in helping you find the right direction as you take your next step in the innovation journey.