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TransformationApr 16, 2021

Structured Innovation 2.0: Four Themes Driving Innovation Success During the Pandemic

JoLynn Smith

Reaching the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic provides companies with an opportunity to reflect and absorb the lessons learned over the past 12 months. COVID-19 completely changed the interactions, exchanges, and relationships between companies and consumers. The pandemic taught the lesson that innovation is essential for all companies and is key to future-proofing your company.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the traditional vacuum approach to innovation. A company may fund a corporate accelerator, and it may designate certain team members as innovation leads. However, this vacuum can create a disconnect between the innovation's intended impact and its true success. 

Over the past year, we learned that innovation is required to keep pace with a constantly evolving world. For companies looking to create a robust innovation engine, we see four themes that drove innovation success during the pandemic: quickly repurposing existing resources and knowledge, embracing the full innovation lifecycle, maintaining a data-driven approach to decision-making, and putting the consumer first.

Innovation Theme 1: Resource and Knowledge Repurposing 

As COVID-19 spread, uncertainty was the only sure part of the new normal. Proactive innovators embraced the uncertainty by leaning into what they did know; innovative companies embraced their existing skills and expertise but deployed them to drive entirely new outcomes. By repurposing existing resources and knowledge, innovative companies were able to leverage their track record of success in order to best position themselves to be a resource and a partner to consumers during this time of uncertainty. 

Open Table is a prime example of a company that repurposed its existing resources and expertise to meet the unique needs created through the pandemic. Open Table, a website used to facilitate restaurant reservations, used its reservation capabilities to support vulnerable populations by allowing them to schedule grocery shopping during low-volume times. 

Another top example is Nepjun. Previously known as Paranoid Fan, Nepjun was originally created to serve as a live event mapping and food delivery platform. Tapping into its core capabilities, Nepjun worked with food banks to ensure they could still serve those in need while maintaining social distancing, offering an innovative approach to a pandemic problem. 

Other examples of proactive innovation through resource and knowledge repurposing include whiskey distilleries who pivoted to produce hand sanitizerclothing companies creating PPE gear, and car companies creating ventilators.   

Innovation Theme 2: Embracing Full Innovation Lifecycle 

Often when companies think about innovation, they shy away from launching anything for public consumption until it is in its most final form. However, a test-and-learn mentality is crucial for sustainable success. Due to the pandemic, the typical business lifecycle was disrupted. However, despite this disruption, truly innovative companies found a way to thrive by embracing the full innovation lifecycle that facilitates discovering, defining, developing, and delivering on an innovation idea. 

An example of this is Real to the People, a therapy startup aiming to change the way people interact with and view mental health services. Originally, Real was scheduled to launch in March 2020. At launch, Real would feature a traditional therapy model and rely on clients coming in-person to a physical office space. Due to the emotional challenges presented by the pandemic, Real Therapy recognized that people needed its services. Rather than delay its launch until we were back to a "new normal," Real therapy pivoted and launched in prototype form. In only one week, Real Therapy pivoted from a brick-and-mortar business approach to an entirely online experience hosted by Mighty Networks.  

Through this pivot, Real was able to provide much-needed mental wellness services while simultaneously gathering important, data-driven insight to guide future decisions. By launching in prototype form, Real was able to test its approach to therapy and gain insights while simultaneously creating a powerful example of embracing the full innovation process. 

Innovation Theme 3: Data-Driven Approach to Decision-Making 

The rapid change of the pandemic prevented certain companies from quickly responding to the changing realities. But not Best Buy, which was able to set itself apart by introducing a rapid, data-driven response to the pandemic. Using data based on consumer preferences and habits, Best Buy was able to flip each of its 1,000 stores in the United States to curbside delivery within 48 hours of making the decision to do so.  

In addressing its quick approach to the pandemic, Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said, "We are leveraging localized data and analytics that allow us to pilot various services like opening stores an hour earlier for consultations only. Using data and analytics also allows us to quickly and productively customize operations to the local situation, if necessary.” 

Due to their quick, data-informed response, Best Buy recognized record online sales during the second quarter of 2020 and produced a gain in same-store sales. Additionally, the quick change allowed Best Buy to experience a 70% year-over-year customer retention rate from March 21 to April 11, 2020. By placing data at the center of all decision-making, companies like Best Buy innovated quickly and successfully. 

Innovation Theme 4: Customer Centricity 

Another reality created from the COVID-19 pandemic was the need to reimagine customer experience. Due to lockdown orders and requests for social distancing, companies that relied on in-person interactions with their customers had to explore new options for meeting their customers in a contactless manner while still delivering the same value. The healthcare industry was forced to reconcile with that question due to its reliance on in-person meetings and the growing importance of health services. 

This question prompted many to respond by offering telehealth services. In fact, by October 2020, telehealth usage in October increased by 3,000% year over year. Within the telehealth space, GoodRx established itself as an innovative, customer-centric leader. By March 26, 2020, GoodRx had launched the GoodRx Telehealth Marketplace, a new service that helped consumers access healthcare services. The goal of its Telehealth Marketplace was to empower the consumer with a sense of confidence about obtaining the care they needed during a time of such uncertainty.

“This is an unprecedented time with the country facing the COVID-19 health crisis,” said Doug Hirsch, co-CEO of GoodRX. “As people stay home, and with our front-line hospitals and clinics experiencing tremendous demand, we want to help people get access to services for a range of medical issues. Our goal with the telehealth marketplace is to give people all their options, services, and prices so they can easily get the treatment they need.”

To introduce the Telehealth Marketplace, GoodRx relied on its existing relationships with care providers and its established brand reputation to quickly offer a service that strengthens customer loyalty by emphasizing customer choice and safety. As loyalty and trust are essential to building positive, long-term relationships, GoodRx positioned itself as a long-term partner to consumers in their health journey. 

As companies look to the future and strengthen their innovation approach, it is essential to place the needs and emotions of the consumer at the center of any new product or service. Companies can expedite the creation of brand loyalty by maintaining a customer-centric approach. 

Capitalizing on These Innovation Themes

A structured innovation approach that features agile, flexible teams for data-informed, customer-centric decision-making is crucial to ensure innovation success in unpredictable circumstances. This structured approach requires you to know the opportunities and limitations of your current business model, valuing each part of the innovation lifecycle equally, and keeping data at the core of everything you do. Companies that were able to utilize the previous techniques were able to thrive and maintain an innovative mindset throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about Credera and our approach to structured innovation, please reach out to findoutmore@credera.com.

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