Innovation Is Everywhere — the Retail Experience in NYC

April 12, 2019

By Paul P. Robinson


A frequent lament among marketers I speak with daily is the universal focus on the need to be "innovative" (that and ROI, but that's another blog post). And while so many believe that innovation means a big risk or a big breakthrough, in reality, innovation is more attainable than we think, and is easily visible everywhere we go. But sometimes we are so focused on the day-to-day, we are not seeing the forest for the trees.

Recently, in New York, the ANA Shopper/Commerce Marketing Committee set out to show brands and agencies that when you open your mind, and evaluate what innovation can mean, you can easily find it. More importantly, you'll be inspired and able to adapt that thinking to your everyday work culture.

Under the tutelage of Michelle Greenwald, seasoned marketer, professor, consultant and CEO of Inventours, we mixed together marketing leaders from different companies in a "retail safari" where we visited a variety of innovative retailers. Participants first discussed different ideas about innovation based on Michelle's book Catalyzing Innovation which breaks out over 60 types of innovation found worldwide.

Once united around these concepts, we hit the streets to observe innovation "in the wild" throughout Manhattan. Teams were divided into verticals (i.e. electronics, luxury clothing, chocolate, sports, etc.) and set out into the wild, trekking the streets and searching high and low to identify how brands were using all different types of innovation to execute their marketing strategies and create meaningful connections and experiences with their consumers.

After several hours of store visits, participants returned to breakout rooms and narrowed down all the innovations observed into the three most memorable, effective examples. Using an important filter of "what would be shared on Instagram?" teams selected photos, wrote the posts (with hashtags), and shared with the group in a presentation. Additionally, each marketing leader shared the insights of the day that they would take back to their company. Some of those insights and action steps revolved around:

  • Creating fresh approaches to innovation beyond brainstorming sessions
  • Widening your company's aperture to include other industries and categories may very well lead to a fresh perspective that helps drive your approach to innovation
  • Breakthrough innovative experiences may impact any of your senses and are often attained through incredible attention to detail
  • Socializing and celebrating innovation

One of the truly rewarding parts of the day was listening to the feedback and speaking with the ANA members who participated. It was clear that the old saying — "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn" — was never so true. By spending time with peers and colleagues in an active hunt for innovation, there were plenty of discussions on how this experience could be replicated, and how innovation was within reach and immediately actionable. Additionally, it was extremely interesting to personally witness the synergy between the retail safari and the themes and topics explored in the ANA quarterly Shopper/Commerce Marketing Committees that I lead in New York, Dallas, and Chicago. For example: experiential commerce, adapting an omnichannel approach, and product customization.

The next day these participants — along with dozens of others — joined the ANA in our inaugural Marketing Futures 1-day Conference, making this a total one-and-a-half-day experience. In addition to sharing the success of the retail safari, participants also heard from thought leaders such as Google, Intel, the NBA, and 19 Crimes Wine about diverse topics such as the future of retail, artificial intelligence, mixed realties (AR/VR/MR), and neuroscience.

Supplementing the presentations, conference attendees also experienced a host of cutting-edge technology in live, interactive, and actionable demonstrations. These included the REGGIE Awards Super Reggie winner from 2018, 19 Crimes, who created "living labels" where consumers could learn from VR wine labels the history of the wine, as well as emerging companies who demonstrated AR experiences in public spaces that led to increased tourism.

In evaluating the feedback from participants of both days, there were a few interesting takeaways that permeated the experience:

  • Innovation takes many forms and means different things to different people. Recognizing that reality in your own organization, and level setting the expectations around what is incremental versus groundbreaking, can help drive new thinking that resonates with your consumers in powerful ways.
  • As marketers, we sometimes have a higher sensitivity to what's "cool" and the shiny new toy in the tech space. Understanding your audience and the way they interact with emerging technologies and the content behind it makes all the difference.
  • New technologies are only valuable when used to help activate an overarching strategy that meets the business need. Technology alone does doesn't equal strategic value, and can in fact detract from your customer experience.
  • Innovation takes effort, but is most effective in unstructured, unorthodox ways. Creating the space for your mind in an environment that precludes distractions can show you what you've been looking for — even when it's right in front of you.

The combination of the retail safari and the Marketing Futures experiences combined to bring attendees into a space where they could not only hear case studies in the area of Marketing Futures, but could experience them with all their senses. Doing so increased their ability to assimilate learnings and be able to bring them back to their companies to affect change.

For more information on the Shopper/Commerce Marketing Committees, please contact

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