Jan 04, 2017

Learnings from Fast Company's Innovation Festival (4/4)


This is the last in our series of learnings from Fast Company’s Innovation Festival. Our three principles thus far, internal valorization, diversity, and cross-industry collaboration, have given us an astute understanding of the makeup of a powerful brand. Our last take away, disruption, helps seal the deal.


The desire for brands to improve the lives of their consumers was present throughout the entire conference. How could it not be? Innovation sparks change and disruption allows for new products and rituals to be created, which can affect generations and social systems.

That’s exactly the space occupied by “taboo” brands like Thinx, a breakthrough brand that makes period-proof underwear, and Sustain Natural, the maker of all natural and organic condom and sexual health products. The founders of each brand, Miki Agrawal and Meika Hollender respectively, each spoke of frustration in their daily lives which led to innovation. The key is that they both refused to accept the status quo and turned frustration into inspiration. The insights they had has allowed their brands to have a direct effect on the lives of their consumers. Grindr’s Equality Director, Jack Harrison-Quintana, was on stage with Agrawal and Hollender and spoke of leveraging his brand’s position as a “safe space” for an “underserved market.” While Grindr is not a political service, he spoke of Grindr’s ability to extend beyond its origins. “We have an ability to speak to voters. So we use that as a platform to educate.”

While observations make for entertaining origin stories, education drives change just as well. This is especially true with challenging issues like our global food crisis. Jonathan Neman, Co-CEO of Sweetgreen said, “[t]he issues aren’t black and white. There’s no grading system for food. So we need more informed decisions, and then communicate why we made that decision.” The sharing of this education is naturally complicit. Numerous speakers touched on this, but Miki Agrawal summarized it well when she said “[b]usiness follows strong values and education.”

And yet…Samantha Bee of Full Frontal doesn’t think that hard about it, at least from a competitive perspective. She doesn’t “navel-gaze”, evaluating herself or her competitors, citing that she finds it harmful and distracting to do so. She “just wanted to make a show that would kick the door in.” Staying focused on her personal insights, as well as those added of her team, gave her the defense against the networks when they drew obvious comparisons with the show that brought her first to late-night shows. “I didn’t know how [my] show would be different from The Daily Show, but I knew it would be. Because I see the world differently.”

In conclusion, the strongest brands and propositions are those that tap into all of four themes examined in this series. Empowering an internal team creates a strong brand culture, which is further fueled by diversity. This diversity can be found internally, but external collaboration across different industries also yields new insight and innovation. And this insight drives change, frequently disrupting a category or even a society. Which means imitators will follow. How does a brand stand apart? By valorizing their employees … and the cycle continues.

The Innovation Fest was a wonderful week of intermingling themes, conversations popping up in one panel, only to be continued a day later in another by completely different people. My biggest takeaway from the conference was that brands and businesses are no longer interested in performance alone. Instead, they’re evaluating all the varying channels where performance might stem from. It isn’t supply chains or marketing or analytics. It comes from themselves, their teams, and friends. It comes from the belief that they can change the world. And hopefully they do.



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