ROCKING INNOVATION & TECHNOLOGY SCOUTING FOR SUCCESS
Achieving innovation and technology advantages in the digital age
As companies gain innovation and technology leadership in the digital age, innovation and technology scouting is playing an increasingly important role. But how can the identification of innovation and technology opportunities be a success? EARLY BRANDS insights provide up-to-date insights in the leadership interview with Alexander Witte, Managing Director.
EARLY BRANDS insights: What is innovation and technology scouting? And why is it currently gaining in importance for a company’s success?
Alexander: It is the targeted tracing of valuable innovation and technology opportunities. The time dimension and the quality play a special role here. Think of consumer goods manufacturers with strong brands, retailers or retail banks. They all have the ambition to discover valuable business opportunities and partners before the competition.
Our clients want to be “first mover” even in the digital age, which is a tough challenge considering their size. To deliver power to the slope, they need pinpoint access to relevant innovation impulses, tailored technologies and opportunities for cooperation along their value-added streams. Worldwide. With start-ups and tech companies as win-win partners. The whole thing in a way that it can lead to success within a year or two. And all without the need to build a new factory on a green field.
Therefore, quality in scouting means: Even with all the dynamic and complexity of the digital world, seeing the wood for the trees. And find valuable fruits in this forest, harvest with partners, with which more than one new variety of fruit salad is possible. Maybe even an app-based concierge service that brings us fruit every day as a drink or snack wherever we wish. The whole thing tailored to our nutrition profile, health and taste. Flexible wherever we are in this world right now. McDonald’s BigMac tastes equally good everywhere. Why not a fresh healthy snack service?
EARLY BRANDS insights: How is the growing interest of top decision-makers in scouting shown?
Alexander: Managers and decision makers in research and development, production and marketing have recognized the strategic importance of scouting for their business success. Anyone watching “Shark Tank” or “Die Höhle der Löwen” in German TV, and seeing how agile start-up companies generate millions of euros in sales within months, would like that too. Only bigger, because your own company base is multiple times larger.
Therefore, they address these exciting topics by their own, aiming to position their companies with innovations. In our current studies and expert surveys in cooperation with universities, we see this clearly.
EARLY BRANDS insights: How did innovation and technology scouting come about as an EARLY BRANDS expertise?
Alexander: The discovery of valuable technological and innovation opportunities has always been part of our DNA. Already in 2007, we had the opportunity to identify tailored innovation opportunities and technology partners worldwide for technology participation projects and open innovation initiatives. Leading companies such as Coca-Cola Corporation or GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare gave us their briefing. And then we started the first expedition around scouting. With first own scouting teams, who identify in the USA, Canada and Europe, what is out there, also capturing product samples and consumer voices in the local markets. Supplemented by media research, our first own technology and innovation databases and doctor Google. As well as solid brand and consumer insights thinking that as a leader in my corporate career at KRAFT Foods Europe and KraftJacobsSuchard I was able to appreciate. Technology edge plus partners plus consumer centricity matters.
However, in days of the Google “filter bubble” and coded patents, much more is needed today.
One example: Try Google for ten days looking for a purple cow. If you are just looking for the word cow on the eleventh day, chances are that Google will offer you a purple cow and even a Milka chocolate. That’s why we built up our own scouting technologies at EARLY BRANDS a few years ago and continue to develop this with many great partners. Using Google to do research for a master’s thesis is fine. But if companies want to gain competitive edge, a lot more is needed.
My understanding of the art of scouting is to filter 50-100 out of 50,000 potentially relevant impulses every month and identify business opportunities. It’s all about tailored results that together with the innovation and research goals, the brands and the know-how in the company make something valuable possible.
EARLY BRANDS insights: What significance do trend forecasts and patent databases have for technological early detection and innovation success?
Alexander: Of course, there are a lot of trend gurus, research oracles and very well-made trend analyzes that provide inspiration. Or IT companies that want to predict innovation and technology developments through patent databases. My experience is: trends and market-driven growth drivers are a very welcome tailwind. We catch it and gladly take it on the expedition for growth and economic success through innovation. But at the same time, new boats, sails or even spaceships can rarely be built from it.
And what if patents are usually published only after 1.5 years or are deliberately coded and equipped with spelling mistakes? Then patent research makes little sense, at least as an instrument for the early detection of innovation and growth opportunities. One and a half years are a long time in the digital age. Competent patent attorneys and patent analyzes nevertheless are of great benefit. Especially at the time, when technology options from scouting are known, incorporated into concepts and evaluated for their patentability.
EARLY BRANDS insights: How does scouting become a commercial success in the business?
Alexander: The high benefit and value is created regularly when as many different scouting aspects as possible are included – from start-ups to competitors to suppliers and experts. Secondly, it is also about thinking and acting across market and category boundaries. It’s not about looking for a new refill ink for the pen, but thinking in broader innovation and technology categories. Why not speaking instead of writing? This is how Siri came into existence. Thirdly, strategic suppliers and tech partners like to be actively involved in scouting. It is about working hand in hand in partnership and recognizing potential.
To capitalize on these benefits, we at EARLY BRANDS play the entire gamut from scouting strategy and conception, operational scouting with our networks and digital tools, to innovation and technology portfolio management. As well as the tech relationship building with start-ups and tech companies.
EARLY BRANDS insights: How to use innovation and technology opportunities in the company profitably?
Alexander: It’s about linking the impulses with the company’s ideas to new business opportunities with know-how and strong partners. And to bring these implementation concepts as initiatives into the exploration and implementation in an agile way. Also, ideas of customers and consumers can be included at an early stage. For example, with lead user feedback from consumers and customers to design thinking sessions, such as the Stanford D:School in sunny California. In all these valuable processes, the focus is always on the customer and the company with its needs. And that’s exactly how we ultimately do and support it with our daily work.
Our task is to facilitate the exploitation of valuable innovation and technology opportunities. And also to support their rapid economic utilization at all levels. Team playing with the top decision-makers and employees in the companies.
EARLY BRANDS insights: Can you make this concrete with the help of successful examples?
Alexander: Definitely. For many very cool brand companies and B2B industrial companies, we have been making lasting economic contributions of up to 10-15 million euros per year, and sometimes even more. However, this is the result of the performance of the people in these companies. We act as enablers and supporters, doing the innovation designs, making values transparent or coordinating.
The value of scouting arises in particular from the development of new profitable sources of revenue. It’s about on-top sales and boosting profit margins. For example, through DTC, direct-to-consumer offers. Why should not a great brand company take a part of the trading margin itself? Or a retail company producing things that make consumers happy.
Or a retail bank that not only offers a loan, but enables that grandma Erna drives from the country with a chauffeur service to the next store, if she wants to complete a fund savings plan for her granddaughter? Then, grandma Erna and her granddaughter also better understand in the future, why they have to pay bank charges. Also, from the point of view of the entire company, attractive growth initiatives are being developed from scouting very quickly.
Not as individual projects, but in the overall view as agile innovation and growth portfolios, the optimal opportunity and value profile of such a portfolio is created. As with professional asset management, it is the same with the detection and utilization of innovation and technology opportunities: If several valuable balls are up in the air at the same time, more valuable results will reach their destination.
Further positive effects for the companies are quality improvements or sustainability advantages – e.g. if innovative packaging materials are identified and being utilized in the company. Scouting results often have value in terms of productivity and efficiency when scouting new opportunities for more cost-effective or faster manufacturing and logistics processes.
EARLY BRANDS insights: What is your ambition for EARLY BRANDS to stay ahead in innovation and technology scouting with leading brand companies?
Alexander: For our clients, we will continue to expand our scouting power in 2018 with committed people and state-of-the-art technologies. With our powerful digital solutions with cloud computing power and as a partner of Microsoft Azure. As well as with exciting research collaborations around artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.
Today, our scouting services teams at our location in Bremen program, analyze and screen hundreds of millions of data sources every day with client-tailored algorithms for innovation and technology opportunities. Add to that our scouting network with the scouts in the top metropolises worldwide. We can implement store checks in Vancouver or San Francisco within 12 hours – and if desired live with our clients.
We will continue to test exciting new technological possibilities such as the blockchain, i.e. decentralized networks with smart, automated processes. At the same time, it is always the people in our team and the client who make the difference with their passion and their know-how. Thinking and acting in customer and consumer needs is crucial to our success.
It’s about understanding the people we work for and making offers that allow them to succeed with their businesses. To learn daily and to grow together. Our clients give us a lot of inspiration and valuable ideas. And that is also enriching for me as a human being.
Catch the Future…!