Season 2

Listen to the 1st Ever Ask an Innovator Episode

We’ve been podcasting here at Ask an Innovator for a year now. A year, folks. That’s a long time. We’re pretty thrilled with all the amazing interviews we’ve had. We’re so excited to keep bringing you innovative news and all sorts of ideas on how to keep innovating. Whether it’s innovation culture, new technology or startup interviews – we’ll have you covered.

If there are any episodes you’d like to hear or a topic of innovation you think we’ve missed – drop a comment and let us know!


City Innovation Labs
We blog about Innovation, too!




Why did we even start Ask an Innovator? – 00:00
An introduction to Josh Barker – 02:05
Innovation Myths – 05:08
How we learned that building the right product is key – 08:13
Innovation projects and what to do with all that data – 13:49
Look at data in a regimented way & an IoT project – 16:43
Innovation is better together – 22:56


Josh Barker [00:00]: All right, welcome to Ask an innovator. This is a special episode. This is the first one in which we’re going to just kind of describe the goals of why we’re doing Ask an Innovator. So I’m here with Brad Hammond. So he’s my partner at City innovation labs. And so I’m Josh Barker, I’m the host. And today we’re just going to be having an open discussion between the two of us. So Brad, why don’t you just give us a high level of what is Ask an Innovator?

Brad Hammond [00:36]: Yeah, sure. So Ask an Innovator is a podcast that we’re doing. We’re basically talking to a number of senior executives in different industries and really just talking about innovation. So what is innovation to them? What are the innovative things that they see within their industry? And then what are they doing in their company to kind of stay on the cusp of you know, the bleeding edge in innovation? And how are they responding to what their competitors are doing? We’re having a number of conversations, there’s a wide variety of industries. So anywhere, you know, from manufacturing to medical to, transportation and learning from all different industries.

JB [01:23]: It’s interesting what we can learn from when you’re talking about going into different industries. There are so many things that we can learn from each other. You’re talking to someone from manufacturing, who might have some ideas on how to build a culture of innovation, who’s talking to someone in the publishing industry. They’re facing some really rough uphill things with publishing dying and moving towards the digital. So there’s a lot of things that we can learn from each other of how to take old concepts and make them new, and culture. You’re going to hear a wide variety of different things on our podcasts, about topics within innovation.

BH [01:59]:
Sure. And I think your backgrounds kind of, you know, working in a few different industries, right?

JB [02:05]: Yeah. Yeah, that’s, that’s a good point. I mean, I’m my background feels a little schizophrenic because it’s all over the place. So I come from really going back to the travel industry. So I was in there for a while as I started my early beginnings as a software engineer, and really, from there moved on to an employee recognition company where we were doing a lot of cool things with digital. And one of the things that, while I was there, that we did is built a social network around employee recognition.

Essentially, a company will have employees that have long-standing tenure at a company so maybe 1,3, 5 to 10 years, and they would get recognized through being able to select an item from a catalog. A pen or a ring, or some way of recognizing the employee and rewarding them for their years of service in addition to doing good things. That was a really fun project to be able to bring a digital spin to it. When I got there, they’re doing so many innovative things even today.

And it’s cool to see the transition really from a manufacturing company where they started. Manufacturing some of these rings, some of these lapels, some of these different things that are tangible. They’re moving more towards the digital space. Where they’re still doing and embracing their old roots, they’re also embracing this younger generation that really engages on platforms like mobile. On platforms like the computer day-to-day in the office. So it’s cool to see that transition where it’s adopting. Things that they see, like Facebook, for example, right? They can see and they can like they can comment they can. Now you know, in the system, there’s instead of a like, it’s applaud, right? So they can do all these different things and engage in the same way that they’re familiar with. So that’s a cool thing.

BH [03:54]: There’s like, I think there’s like hundreds of companies using this. Yeah, hundreds Yeah. Our users, so a lot easier. It’s worked

JB [03:56]: Yeah, hundreds.

BH [03:57]: With tens of thousands of users.

JB [03:59]: A lot of users.

BH [04:00]: It’s worked out really well for them.

JB [04:02]: Absolutely. They’ve really taken that concept from when I was there and ran with it. And they’re doing some cool things now with mobile. Doing some cool things with performance, like helping measure sales performance, metrics, and things like that. And rewarding their employees and milestones. It’s really cool to see the progression and we’ve stuck around, We’ve stuck with them along the journey. And they’ve just been a skyrocketing company. And it’s really cool to see.

So and then from there, moved on to KPMG. And that’s just a fantastic company. In that, you know, I really learned a lot from working there. So I was an Associate Director of Innovative Solutions. I mean, first and foremost, what I would say is the culture there is something that I really learned a lot about building a culture that supports innovation. And it’s pretty cool because I think that a lot of companies struggle with this. This is almost pivotal and core to building any type of innovative product or thing.

BH [05:07]: There’s a lot of myths surrounding innovation.

JB [05:08]: Absolutely. You’re exactly right. I mean, people think that you’ve got to be the smartest person in the room like a Steve Jobs-esque, right? You’ve got to hire one person to do all the innovation or innovation can’t be systematized. Right. So I mean, that’s such a fallacy, right? of innovation can be systematized and everyone can innovate. And it’s just a matter of putting the right process in place to help support that.

But furthermore, like, as you know, talking about at KPMG is really the right culture. Having a culture that is, you know, I really like someone gave this great definition of failure. It’s a successful way of finding out the wrong way to do something. Which, I really like that a lot because that really shows a culture of being willing to take risks and not afraid of failure, but adopting that failure is part of the process. So to me, I mean, I really like that definition. I think that’s key to a part of a culture. Here at City innovation labs, we actually have a core value that says throwing bad things at the wall.

We try and make that as low barrier because we do believe that, you know, while some people think there are bad ideas, the problem with saying there are bad ideas is then you clam up other people of willing to share what might be a partial good idea or partial bad idea. And so that might drive further good ideas. So being able to have a culture that’s willing to not be afraid to take risks and not be afraid to even share ideas that might not be popular or might not be good ideas in their minds, but might have a hint of a good idea.

So that’s something that KPMG really did well. One of the things that we did there is we built a system internally. And we were building a system to allow developers to build their code more quickly because when you’re building code and you’re building products, a lot of times there are these building blocks that you have to start with on every single project. So things you have to do over and over and over again. So for, for technical folks, they know what I’m talking about setting up servers, setting up continuous integration, etc. I don’t want to get too deep in the lingo.

But effectively, there’s a couple of weeks worth of work sometimes that would have to be set up. And then additionally, there are these different teams, you’d have to engage like security and networking. And what we were looking to do is really automate and scaffold that process to bring in what was a couple of weeks to a months-long process, down to really minutes. Where you could, you know, almost wizard through and select here are the requirements for the project in kind of web interface. You’d be able to auto-scaffold and it would auto-deploy every environment that’s been pre-vetted by security and pre-vetted by the network team. Kind of blessed all the way around.

So that was definitely something that we were looking into and had been bringing to market at KPMG. Then I left KPMG as soon as so my friend called me up. He’s a lifelong friend. His name’s Todd. So he said, “Hey, Josh, I’ve got an opportunity.” He moved to Silicon Valley probably five years before. He said he sat down at breakfast and pitched an idea to one of his friends who he didn’t know was an accredited investor and said, “Hey, this is the idea I’ve got, would you come and consider quitting your job at KPMG and building the startup with me over in Silicon Valley?” KPMG was such a good company that it was a very hard decision for me to make.

JB [08:13]: At first I told him no, actually. I said, “No, I can’t do that.” He’s told me the amount of money and I’m like, well, that’s not very much runway. We’re going to need some more money. So if you really wanted to do this, you’re going to have to basically triple the amount of investment.

Todd, of course, the guy he is, he kicks down doors. And Brad, you know Todd too, you worked with him as well. And he kicked down doors and made it happen and called me back, I think almost a week or two later. He said, “I’ve got the money. Let’s go.” And you know, and so I was sitting there thinking to myself, “Oh, crap, I didn’t think I’d ever actually have to make a decision.” And so brought it back to the wife and thought and prayed about It was like, “Oh, man, I think this is the move we need to make.”

So, left KPMG went to do the Silicon Valley startup. And, man, I learned a lot in building a startup, let me tell you. So startup in Silicon Valley. I mean, I think I was living in a fantasy world before then when I even was at KPMG and even when I was at the employee recognition company, and prior. I was really, really trying to get my bearings on how do you build products the right way? Brad, you’ve said this about products, you’ve said, “It’s easy to build a product, it’s hard to build the right one. “

That’s where I learned that lesson really hard when I was doing this Silicon Valley startup, and really learning a lot about Lean Startup, learning about MVP. So how to do minimum viable product. How to find product-market fit. That actually a lot harder, right? Huge fallacy that you’re going to go out and build a product and tons of users are gonna flock to it like ‘Field of Dreams’ moment, right? So it’s very different than that. And the approach That Lean Startup takes is very, “Hey, let’s test it and run experiments.” And let’s test value propositions.

So rather than going out and building something immediately, like we all want to do, right? I’m a builder at heart. And I know Brad, you’re a builder, too. We like to build things together. And so it’s hard not to get ahead of ourselves and say, let’s build something. So what we ended up doing was, we built something at first. We failed really fast and really hard. We ended up building this live-streaming platform and thought it was going to be a big hit. And it tanked. We ran the numbers on it, looked at the data, and the data showed that no one really wanted to do it. We had 10,000 signups for a single class to watch remotely and to participate. But really, when we looked at the number

BH [10:29]: This is in the fitness space, right?

JB [10:31]: Fitness space, that’s right. I should explain that. Yeah, it was in the fitness space. Then the concept was, 66% of gym memberships go unused. So how do we make people and encourage their health to get better and increase the number of people that actually follow through on their commitment to workout to get healthy? And that’s a very hard problem to solve.

We first tried doing that by doing a live-streaming product that effectively allows paired up people and instructors that wanted to do a yoga class like in California, for example, with someone in Michigan or all over the world. And again, as I said, that failed pretty bad. So 10,000 signups one class, we thought that was awesome. We’re like, “Oh, we’re onto something big.”

And then we actually looked at the data and there was only 15 to 20 people that actually attended and we thought, “That’s a terrible conversion rate.” . So we’re sitting here baffled, scratching our heads. And we tried a lot of different little things, but we ended up pivoting probably six or seven different times. I won’t go through all the different pivots. Being a software developer, it’s almost, I don’t want to say a guarantee, but a lot of times they’re gamers too. So my background is gaming, right? So when I was younger, particularly, I was a very avid gamer. Talking about video gamer.

So I ended up saying, “What if we gamified the fitness space? What if we made it into a game?” Right? The end result was I ran a test in which we took five people and put them up against another five people. First, we tested it over text, right? And we said, “Let’s do this.” I’ll join both groups as kind of a silent observer. I’ll release 60-second challenges throughout the day. They have to do those challenges and they have to post social credibility that they did it by taking a picture. And then furthermore, they’d actually have to do exercises. There was some trust involved that they’d have to validate it. But they would also post that and get points.

We ended up doing this and it was wildly successful. I didn’t know it at the time until after we ran the data. And wouldn’t you know it out of the 10 participants, nine our of the 10 were avid participators. Where they would actually post 30 to 40 times a day, which is this insane number, right? So I’m saying going maybe this is an anomaly. Let’s, let’s try rerunning this again, with more users. So I told this to the group, we’re all running our own experiments.

And when I told the group, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, let’s each run one of these groups.” So I had two groups of 10. And then everyone else had two groups of 10. We had a small team of about five people. We were running, what, 20 times 5, 100 people through this thing. So we did it, and same results. We said, “Oh, my gosh, we have something truly special here.” And I truly believe to this day that we found product-market fit.

But after that, it was really difficult because we got into the mire of, “Okay, well, now how do we automate that, right?” We found something, how do we automate it? We went down that road of trying to automate it and we just couldn’t pivot fast enough. But really, through this experience, it gave a lot of insight into how to build products and how to build the right products. Not necessarily you know how to build them, because I knew before, but how to find the right products. So that was such an interesting journey.

Even today where you and I kind of partnered up and then created City Innovation Labs and we’ve applied a lot of these concepts to our business. Maybe you can explain a little bit to the audience about City Innovation Labs.

BH [13:49]: Yeah, for sure. So my background is in a number of startups as well. Really, it’s been awesome to kind of use a lot of these principles we’ve learned in kind of startup land. Even things like Google Design Sprints, for instance, design thinking activities in the practice of user experience, or UX and really apply them to enterprises.

So a lot of enterprises today are kind of rethinking their business model. There are terms thrown out there like digital transformation and innovation. How do we embrace digital and how do we innovate? They’re looking at what our competition is doing? Well, they’re like, launching cool new products. So how do we do that too?

We’ve really had the opportunity to go into a lot of these well-established organizations that have been around for a while. They might be in manufacturing or health care or agriculture or transportation or whatever. We can really just think about, well, how do we utilize digital technology and concepts that we’ve learned in startup land to build innovative products within your company? So kind of a startup or a product within a larger company enterprise.

We’ve worked with chemical distribution companies. So any sort of chemicals you can think of like soap at the car wash or the paint on your house or epoxy on your floors. They have this large distribution that works to sell those chemicals to essentially manufacturing companies that might produce like paints. We’re undertaking a really interesting project with them where it’s like, well, how do we increase sales. They have tons and tons of customers and have many opportunities within their data. Someone might order a product and then they might not order it. They might request a sample and they never buy the product.

It’s so hard for a salesperson or a sales team to look at that data and see the key opportunities. What we’re undertaking is actually developing an artificial intelligence system that looks at all that data. It breaks it down into actionable tasks for their sales team. Like, “Hey, there’s an opportunity here, act on it.”

That allows us to take all that data and actually make it useful because organizations today one of the greatest challenges they’re facing is actually having too much data. It’s no longer a question of collecting data. It’s actually making it actionable and making it useful. So you know, we’ve undertaken a number of innovation projects and have to do with data and they’re just really interesting projects.

JB [16:38]: I think one of the things that we’ve said, is [these companies] they’re data-heavy and information poor.

BH [16:43]: Exactly. So most organizations today, someone will sell them on the idea of implementing some sort of analytics system, but it just isn’t set up correctly. It isn’t tracking stuff that’s useful. We even learned if you can create a culture and create a process of experimentation and look at your data in a very regimented way, you’ll develop great products. We’ve set up a number of these systems with startups and in companies. So many of these innovation projects have been was really interesting.

Another example of one we did was an IoT project. So, if you’re not familiar with the term IoT, it’s the Internet of Things. It’s taking a lot of traditional things and connecting them to the internet. So some things that you guys might know about are things like the Nest thermostat or the Alexa. Hopefully, I didn’t just trigger your Alexa here at your house.

We had a company approach us that they build these apple storage facilities. It’s kind of a cool concept. They have these facilities that create perfect atmospheric conditions for the storage of apples. So you can store apples for I think up to years, they said, you know, testing the outer limits of it. They’re just like a fresh apple pick from the tree sort in these warehouses that they’ve built.

One of the problems they’re facing is they collect a lot of data, on perfect storage conditions and they do monitoring, but it was all localized. They’d have to have somebody drive around to each of those cities and look at the day’s data and tweaks. So what we’re able to do is bring all that data kind of into the cloud and create a system in which someone can log on anywhere in the world and look at all their facilities and tweak settings and look at how the apples were doing. So this is another example of an innovation project we did.

JB [18:48]: One of the things that’s cool about that one if you’re just playing off your data. Even take that example alone. Well, now that they’re aggregating all this data in the cloud, from all these geographically dispersed locations and customers. Now they can actually mask their data so you don’t know where it’s coming from, but you can aggregate it and look at trends across your customers. Which is really kind of cool, right?

BH [19:10]: Yeah, exactly. So like a big thing for us and any project that we do is we always think about what is the ROI? So a lot of times we’ve seen organizations just go into projects because I think it’s a good idea or I feel like we should do this. But we always go into it thinking and putting our little business hats on and thinking, what kind of return are we going to get for this?

And it’s absolutely critical to have good data and to do tracking and analytics to then see it like, “Okay, did this project meet ROI expectations?” It’s very important. A lot of technology people just think about like, “Oh, what would be cool to build or what would be fun?” We kind of think of ourselves as technologists and business people. So we want to speak to the stakeholders of the company. What is the ROI here and what would we do if we’re in their shoes?

Another example of an interesting project was we worked with a company and they manufacturer cleaning and inspection equipment for municipalities sewer systems. Cities have been facing this problem for a while now is they have so many sewer lines. They have just thousands of miles of them. Especially in big cities like New York, Chicago, and LA. Typically the cities will have one crew that kind of does an inspection of the systems. If they’re to take that crew and just do all the lines of the whole system, it would take an average of like 30 to 40 years to inspect all the systems. It’s crazy.

A lot of times what will happen is these problems will crop up before they’ve inspected it and we’ve all heard the term an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So it’s much more beneficial to the city if they see a problem like a tree root growing through the line while it’s small before it’s huge and there’s a big huge crater in the middle of the road or something.

This company we’ve kind of worked on with them, which is a really innovative concept is they have built kind of a preliminary inspection camera that goes on the end of the cleaning equipment. So cities will have 10,15, 20 times as many cleaning crews as inspection crews. So now they’ve enabled the cleaning crews to do a preliminary inspection. As you can imagine, you have 10,15, 20 times the amount of people will you took that 30 or 40 year inspection time down to like one or two. So you can inspect it so much more often.

We’re kind of working on a platform with them, that allows them to kind of pull in all these videos from the preliminary inspection. Because remember, these are cleaning people are not necessarily inspection people. This pulls them into a system that allows people to then review and flag an area. If they flag an area then the actual inspection crew will go out there and take a look at it.

This system has saved the city so much money because instead of waiting until there’s a big crater in the road or something, they’ll catch it early on and get the maintenance crew out here to kind of fix it once and for all. So this is a really interesting project in which we’ve combined traditional manufacturing and equipment with digital in order to realize a lot of ROI for everyone involved.

JB [ 22:56]: Yeah. We could probably go on and on and on right about all these cool projects. And it’s pretty neat to see how cross-industry they are too. Because it’s not just one industry, we’re seeing it in manufacturing, or we’re seeing it in the employee recognition space.

Bringing it back home to Ask an Innovator, honestly, that’s a huge part of the reason why we’re doing this podcast. We’re trying to learn something from every single industry and we think it’s so important that we learn from each other. We build relationships with each other so that we can learn all these concepts about their culture. Whether they’re using cool new technology as you talked about, like IoT. We’ve talked to many customers, about their use of AR/VR, and that’s a cool thing. So, being able to learn from each other and apply these concepts is really at the root of Ask an Innovator.

BH [23:48]: Exactly. So every company in every industry can be innovative. It’s very systematizable. There’s a number of exercises you can go through and then a number of areas you can look at. You can look at it from a business standpoint or an ROI standpoint. No matter who you are, you can be innovative

JB [24:11]: That’s right. Cool. Well, Brad, I mean, this is a great first episode, we just wanted to introduce ourselves again and talk a little bit about innovation. And I hope you’re looking forward to the next podcasts that we’re about to do. They’re going to be really cool. They’re going to from all different industries. So watch for those and look forward to them. So, thank you all for listening. And this is the first episode of Ask an Innovator.

BH [24:31]: Thanks, everyone!

How is Hallmark Emerging as an Innovation Company?


Jennifer Garbos is on the show today. She is the Design Engineering Manager at Hallmark. We dig into the intersection of work and entrepreneurship and how that inspires change and growth. We also get into Hallmark as an innovation company: the process, what technology they’re looking at next, and what human-centered design means to their organization.

Jennifer charms us with her insatiable curiosity, her contagious laugh and her brilliance on how to move a company, like Hallmark, forward in the innovation arena.

Connect with Ask an Innovator.


The Power of Play
Loonshots by Safi Bahcall
How to Guide Innovation


City Bitty Farm
Four Season Tools


Jennifer’s background at Hallmark & entrepreneurial ventures: City Bitty Farms & Four Season Tools – 01:00
What are the strengths you can capitalize on? – 05:11
Using human-centered design to develop products – 07:08
The innovation exercises Jennifer uses at Hallmark – 11:40
How is Hallmark reaching new consumers? – 15:19
How Hallmark figures out what products will work – 22:09
Innovation Hotseat with Jennifer – 24:31

Jennifer’s take on “What is Innovation?” – 39:18
How Hallmark defines innovation – 40:55


Erin Srebinski [00:00]: Today we have Jennifer Garbos, a leader of future strategy at Hallmark cards. She’s taking 100 plus years of awesome at Hallmark and aligning it with the technology and behavioral trends of the future to ensure consistent growth. Hallmark is not Jennifer’s only role. She’s an entrepreneur with her husband, a mom to two imaginative kids, a mascot and an inventor with nine patents to her name. She joins us today to talk a little bit about her journey and the future of Hallmark.

Josh Barker [00:24]: Good so you’re going to unveil all of Hallmark’s secrets is what I’m hearing you say.

Jennifer Garbos [00:42]: I do have something and it’s public that I can talk about that I’m pretty excited about. I’d be happy to share that.

JB [00:50]: Cool. Cool. Well, Jennifer, I’d love to, kicking it off. I’d love to learn a little bit more about your background. And a little bit more about you if you wouldn’t mind just sharing with that with us.

JG [01:00]:
I’d be happy to. My background, my job at Hallmark is I am the Design Engineering Manager for greeting cards as well as gift wrap, as well as an innovation leader for our company. My background is really interesting. I’ve always been in consumer products. Consumer products are my passion. I have worked as a product engineer at Ford before moving to Hallmark. And then my husband and I own three companies in the agriculture space that we’ve started from the ground up. Two of those are over 10 years old now. And so we live both the innovator and entrepreneur lifestyle.

JB [01:39]: That’s awesome. That really probably helps you both ways, right? I mean, seeing both sides of it, where you’re working at a large company like Hallmark and then being an entrepreneur as well?

JG [01:49]: It definitely does and the experiences I have on either side of that fence both influenced the other in a very positive way, the successes and the failures.

JB [01:58]: You’ve got to give a plug for your entrepreneurial businesses, what are they called?

JG [02:03]: Yes, the oldest company is called Four Season Tools. And with that we build custom greenhouse solutions for smaller-scale sustainable farms, especially specializing in movable greenhouses. So a greenhouse you can move from plot of land a plot of land, extend your season, or rotate your crops growing in different soil. And then, in order to do that well, we had to launch a farm because we are both engineers by degree and working in the agriculture space needed more experience in farming as well as it needed an R&D lab to test out the solutions we were developing for farmers across the country. So we launched City Bitty Farm, and it’s in Kansas City. It’s one of the largest urban farms in Kansas City and we grow microgreens year-round on a couple of acres in the urban area.

JB [02:53]: Looking at the website right now, City Bitty Farm, that’s awesome.

JG [02:55]: We’ve learned a lot through the years in launching those companies. One with a company that actually builds structures and, you know, physical objects and another that has a living, breathing thing that we have to nurture and take care of throughout all the holidays.

JB [03:12]: Very cool. Awesome. It looks like a lot of fun. And how does that help you with things at Hallmark?

JG [03:22]: Yeah. So when you start your own business as I’m sure some of your listeners have done themselves or have done multiple times. Serial entrepreneurs as we are. You have to do things with what you have. You have to work from your integral foundation, what do you have? Or what do you know that you can do better than anyone else? Or how can you spin it in a way or apply it in a way that gives you an advantage over other companies that may already be in that space?

As an entrepreneur, if you can’t do that you can’t thrive. Three years making it three years is the success of a homegrown business or any sort of entrepreneurial endeavor. And you can’t really get there if you can’t do something better or have your claim to fame. How do you offer value and uniqueness beyond what your competitors have, and being really, really great at assessing, honestly, what those strengths are that you have? That’s what we had to do as entrepreneurs to start Four Season Tools and City Biddy Farms way to apply the knowledge and the resources we had differently than anyone else who might be in that industry.

Bringing that forward to Hallmark, that’s definitely what we do as a part of the innovation process there. What’s great about is it makes us super lean, fast and strong. It lowers the risk of the ideas that we come forward with because we’ve already assessed the strengths that we have, and we’re applying those in a way that no one else can match in that even initial launch phase.

JB [04:50]: Yeah, that’s good. Yeah, it makes you almost think as an entrepreneur. You know, if you’ve seen the matrix where he says there is no spoon, right? It’s just kind of, there is no box outside your comfort zone, like expand the boundaries. So that’s I imagine that’s probably a lot of overlap there with helping you on Hallmark with innovation.

JG [05:11]: Definitely, definitely, I love doing puzzles. I love solving problems and connecting dots. When you can assess, here’s what all of my strengths are. And you lay them all out and even, you know, get as tactical as drawing them on post-its or writing it down on a piece of paper or typing it on your screen, you can start to see the connections between those and that’s where so much of the value lies. Look at what you can do really, really well. And then from that, what could you build from there? Like if you think about every single one of those strengths as a carbon atom, what are the bonds that you can create between those strengths? And do you end up with graphite? Do you end up with a diamond? What do you want in the end anyway? Would you rather have graphite?

JB [05:54]: Yes, exactly. Now you’ve got, it looks like the whole gamut. I mean, you’ve from an innovation director standpoint, so almost like working directly with from a consumer end standpoint to now, on the design side with probably some Human Centered Design focus. Sounds like it really affords you a really wide breadth of knowledge across, hey, starting with the customer, what do they see? What do they need? Or what Don’t they know they need yet? To all the way to engineering. Is that is that what I’m seeing too?

JG [06:31]: Yes, that’s exactly right. So you can see there that I started out as an engineer, a product engineer, and realized very quickly that a lot of times my client’s internal or external clients would be asking for a solution that wasn’t exactly what the customer or their consumer was looking for. And it led to a passion and a breadth of experience in the human center design or design for experience. So instead of developing the technology that was requested. It’s really about developing the experience with the correct Applied Technology.

JB [07:03]: Sure. Can you give some examples of some of the things you guys have worked or you’ve worked on at Hallmark?

JG [07:08]: Sure. One of my favorite examples and this is a few years ago, what I really love about it, it was launched before Siri was on your iPhone, probably even before iPhones were out. We were working on stuffed animals. I actually started at Hallmark making singing and dancing snowman, I was hired in to do the animatronics of the technical electromechanical modules inside those. And we were working on stuffed animals and stuffed toys for kids and realized that the maturity of voice recognition technology was really improving. It was becoming a lot more accessible and accessible in lower-cost devices.

And so we invented a toy that would respond to your voice. A stuffed animal. Specifically would respond to your voice as you read a book aloud. So Hallmark is very much interested in helping people make connections and build relationships with those people important to them in their lives. And making plush products or stuffed animals was a part of that it was helping provide either a representation for you when you’re not there or just giving a little, you know, a bit of love in a kid’s life. And we realized that stuffed animals are so important in a developing child’s life. They’re more than just a toy, they can be a companion, they can offer comfort. They, the role-play their part of the imaginative play world.

So what we did was we applied voice recognition technology to that, so that as parents were sitting down and reading to their kids, not only could they read to their kids, but the stuffed animals would listen along also, and the stuffed animals would interject in the way a four-year-old might do when you’re reading a storybook aloud at night with add-ons to the story or cute little moments. The first one we launched was called Jingle. He was a husky pup at Christmas time. You would say something in Jingle would just burst out into a howling song version of a Christmas tune. And so kids just they loved that. Not only did it make reading time more fun for kids who maybe didn’t want to sit still so much, but they had a friend who was listening along with them.

So we ran through those for a few years. And that really sparked my passion and development around the human-centered design process because we didn’t start with voice recognition technology and say, what can we do with this? What we started with, when that actually developed was the understanding that stuffed animals played a key role in the lives of kids and their families. And that reading time was a time that was important for that bonding between kids and either parents or caregivers or grandparents. That’s the moment we really wanted to help build-out. How can that be an even more emotional or fun moment?

JB [09:58]: That’s awesome. Yeah, that I think that’s so key with starting with the end consumer versus a technology and trying to shoehorn it into certain situations of how can we use this? I think that’s key. That’s key. I think you’re right on there. And how did you guys go about doing your research? I’m assuming there was a research phase before you just went ahead and built this plush animal of trying to figure out the need and trying to address and need that wasn’t being addressed.

JG [10:32]: Yeah, that’s a great question. We have a great fortune at Hallmark of working with some amazing creative talent. Hallmark’s one of the largest employers of creative professionals in the world. And that group, that incredibly creative group is constantly on the cusp of emerging technologies. So we really lean on everyone in the company to bring forward things that they’re noticing in the marketplace.

Technologies that are becoming more accessible news articles, things, they’re starting to make it into consumer’s homes, things that we find people are just feeling more comfortable with than they were in the past. And that timing is super, super important, especially when you do have a large creative group thinking of off the wall brilliant ideas, figuring out when they really start to intersect most people’s homes is a critical point. Yeah.

JB [11:22]: And I see that everyone’s kind of responsible for that. It looks like as an innovation director, you were leading innovation exercises and team activities to help fill your pipeline. How did you go about doing that? And what does that look like when we say innovation exercises?

JG [11:40]: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I’m sure that everyone has a different answer to it. There are so many different tools available. Personally, I have a strong belief in being insatiably curious, and therefore I might not ever lean on the same tool. I think that the job that we’re doing is going to dictate the tool that we need or that’s required. One of my more recent favorite examples of determining what kind of technology or what innovation to proceed with, really starts with an interview process or a gathering of carbon atoms.

So understanding not only what are the needs, that your consumers or that your customers have, but also in the strength that you have as a company, but also, who else is working on something even in the same company that has a passion project they want to move forward? That is just as important a factor in launching innovation at Hallmark as either of the other two.

The consumer needs to demand that the technology has to be right, but we also need people in the building who are willing to work on it or champion it or intersects the work that they’re already trying to do or the initiatives that they have in place. So my favorite exercise is to gather all of those pieces and parts together, and then look at who the person is we’re trying to solve for. So we knew a number of different needs.

Now let’s apply it to a human-centered persona. And maybe that’s not an actual person, but a person who embodies characteristics of the market that we’re trying to solve for at any given moment. And now understand this person, what are these things that would interest them? What would help them? What would work for them? and using that to map out a longer-term strategy? Because we want every single person to be satisfied with the results that we’re offering or the products or solutions?

JB [13:35]: So how do you guys take, you know, something that was a person in a persona so this, you know, this fake profile of a, it simulates a person right? It simulates a target market. How do you validate that with the true target market? How do you guys do that at Hallmark?

JG [13:50]: What we love about our industry is that everyone loves to get a card. Our founder has said, “No one ever sends a card in anger.” And so it’s really, really fun to work on a product that we know people are going to love to give. And so many different types of people are going to love to give those. So when we do than come up with a solution and we want to validate our target market. Depending on the type of product we’re talking about, we’ll use any number of different consumer testing techniques that our insights and analytics partners will recommend. Everything from focus groups, to quantitative consumer research surveys to ethnographic surveys, depending on what we really need to learn from that.

As I mentioned, I’m insatiably curious. What we really need to learn is going to drive the methodology that we choose. It’s not always about learning is the solution, the exact thing that this consumer is looking for? A lot of times it’s learning about the insight behind it or the implementation of it, or, as you mentioned, even earlier, the technology that’s used in it. Because it’s not about the technology, it’s about the need that it’s solving.

JB [15:03]: Right, Very cool. Now, let’s switch gears for just a second. I want to know a little bit about some of the cool things that are going on at Hallmark. What are some of the cool things going on that you can talk about? The stuff you can’t, we won’t we won’t talk about that stuff, but this stuff you can.

JG [15:19]: Sure, I love it that you ask what are the cool things going on at Hallmark as we talk on an innovation podcast because you can define cool or innovation in so many different ways. I think there are approaches that Hallmark is taking to reaching out to new consumers, as approaches to new products, to being in new places where you can access our product. One of the things that’s cool just from a ‘when do you think about Hallmark’ lens is we have a line of cards, today, called Just Because and those cards are really focused on realizing that people want to connect with other people and build their relationships in a positive way outside of it’s my birthday or it’s Valentine’s Day I have to get a card for my spouse or partner.

People have needs beyond that to be a good friend or be a good partner or be a good daughter or son. And so this line of Just Because cards really recognizes that. One of my favorite ones is just the ‘You’re a Great Parent’ card and it says, “Parenting is tough but you’re tougher.” On the inside, it says, “Even if dishes go undone or laundry piles up, you will all survive because the essential ingredient is there, love. Don’t worry, you’re doing great.” I know quite a few moms and dads in my circle I could give that to on any day and I think they’d start crying.

JB [16:43]: Right. I definitely see that as more of a trend because I see these cards, and I definitely resonate with being more specific and being outside of these, these events like Valentine’s Day, for example of giving cards. And seeing those cards that are pertinent to a lot more situations that are occurring more daily. So that makes perfect sense.

JG [17:04]: Right, and it’s really interesting. My husband and I because we talk about innovation at the dinner table, he calls Hallmark and emotional transfer company. I’m like, oh, gosh, that’s so so mechanical. Then other people you talk to will view Hallmark is a communication company that we’re about a communication method if you think analogous to letters. And then the question that naturally comes up is well with digital communication, you know, what’s the role? Why are there greeting cards?

What we found is that greeting cards carry a completely different value than digital communication does. They play a different role in your life. And as I said, no one sends a greeting card in anger. That’s not to be said for a lot of other digital communication. So we, we really are focused on helping people build up those relationships. And that makes for a completely different area of innovation that needs to bridge from digital to tangible. So you asked, what are some other things you know, that we have going on right now that are really interesting? And I think how we’re addressing that digital space is really, really cool.

We just launched a week ago, an app that’s available in the iPhone app store right now called Hallmark Digital Postage. And what’s so cool about that is that in that app, you are able to activate postage pre-printed postage on a Hallmark envelope if you decide you want to mail that card. So you never have to get stamps anymore. You don’t need to go to the post office, you can just activate through your app, the postage, it’s already printed on your envelope, and then toss it in the mail.

JB [18:47]: That makes it a lot more streamlined. That’s, that’s great. I’m looking at it right now. I might have to download this.

JG [18:53]: Yeah. And it’s, it’s super, super fun. And if you have a stamp, and you, you would rather just use you know, the special stamp that you walked to the post office and got, you can just stick that right over that code and you’re not losing any money, because you haven’t paid for it yet. So it’s a really great thing that we’re using to help people get those awesome tangible, beautiful cards in the mail to people they care about, but not require that they go through so many extra steps.

JB [19:20]: Yeah, that’s great. Decreasing the amount, the barrier to entry because I feel like cards add so much more weight when you receive one, right? Like when I physically take the time and write something out to someone that’s unusual, right? Because in our society today, it’s very digital. Sending an email, that’s a lot easier. Well, it takes effort for me to actually go select a card, get a card, handwrite it, get the postage, put it on there, put it in the mail. And so I think it carries a lot more weight when you receive a card.

JG [19:53]: Yeah, and we want to focus on those steps that are the important pieces of that process, the signing it or writing your message or, you know, whatever it is you do if you put stickers on your envelope or on your card. Putting stamps on the card is not the thing people always look forward to the most about sending their loved one a greeting card.

JB [20:40]: Right. Right, removing the barriers to entry. I love it. That’s good. I’ve seen a piece of software that was online that allowed me to type in digital cards. Like I’ve used it before to actually hand write like I type the message, and then they’ll have a system where its hand writes it and then put it in the mail for me and send it to the recipient. Do you guys have anything like that at Hallmark?

JG [20:37]: We have tested in some product offerings on that you can have your card signed and handwritten for you. So you never actually have to physically touch the card, but it will have a handwritten message that’s custom to the sentiment you want to deliver or what you want to say to the recipient. We’ve also done that on, and either I think it’s for a low cost, someone will handwrite a message for you, and then we’ll send it along with the postage and you know, we’ll pay the postage to send it to the recipient directly. It’s something we’re definitely exploring. Hallmark also has a patent issued on handwriting digitization. And so it’s definitely a technology that is important to our business because of the importance it has to our consumers, that personal touch.

JB [21:29]: That’s cool that I mean, I like you that you use the word experiments. So you guys are probably always rapidly running these experiments and trying to figure out what your end market, your end consumers really need.

JG [22:09]: Yes, yes, we’re always running experiments, figuring out what works, what doesn’t work. I think that when you’re talking about an innovation program that’s built on your corporate strengths, yet you know where you want to go, let’s say you’ve done that persona development work, you understand the perfect solution that would engage that consumer down the road, but you’re not there yet.

You’re still over here at corporate strengths. You have to figure out how can I get to point B, and it’s usually not instantaneous. Usually what your consumers are looking for is so far beyond where you are today, just because of the exponential rate of change of technology that you have to figure out how can you build your way there? How can you connect those atoms? How can you build the bonds between the solutions that you can offer today? And we have to run experiments to build up those additional capabilities.

So in the digital postage example that I shared with you, there is so much to get to a place where people are never going to have to put stamps on envelopes to send a greeting card anymore. And this experiment that we’re launching is really helping us figure out, what is our consumer looking for? Doing experiments in a tangible realm is completely different, though, then doing them in digital space. Building a beta test app, and launching it and that app having to work with a physical tangible thing is just, it’s a really exciting space to play.

That physical-digital interaction and the interface between those things. We have to learn and experiment as we go because that side of innovation is not mature at all. Digital Innovation is really starting, you know, there are agile methodologies, and there are processes in place for how to do that. But when we’re talking about how digital influences the tangible product, or in reverse, how does tangible product interaction influence your digital development or experience? There’s that’s a pretty nascent field right now.

JB [23:39]: Yeah it’s what a lot of people call almost a sleepy field. It’s cool to hear all the innovation that is occurring at Hallmark. In a market that’s seeming, I don’t want to say dormant, but it’s definitely more sleepy. Yet, there’s still an incredible amount of merit in a physical greeting card and when what can be done to reduce barriers to entry and how to how to make it easier and simpler to send cards and, and to have more options of cards it sounds like.

JG [24:07]: Yeah, that’s definitely true. I think that as the technology and trend of smart homes grows, that that need for that digital tangible interaction, and how do you enable a positive consumer experience with physical things that are in your home is going to grow. It’s not quite there yet, but we definitely are on the forefront of exploring that space with experiments like the ones I’ve mentioned.

JB [24:31]: Awesome. Well, Jennifer, there’s a segment that we normally would do. I’m going to switch gears here unless you had something else you wanted to, to say about anything we’ve said so far before I switch gears.

JG [24:40]: Now let’s go. Let’s go, love it.

JB [24:42]: So this is something called the Innovator Hot Seat. So I’m going to ask you a series of questions that are unrelated to what we’ve been talking about. They’re very random. I’ll give you a sample of them. So like, they’re going to be things like, what podcasts do you subscribe to, one person you’d invite to dinner. I’m going to go through these and then we’ll unveil your answers. So this is the Innovators Hot Seat here. So first question, what podcasts do you subscribe to?

JG [25:12]: Oh boy, the Ask an Innovator podcast. I subscribe to that one. Number one right there. I listen to a lot of TED Talks as well. I have to admit that I prefer going to a lot of things in person over listening to podcasts. So when we have TEDx KC events here locally, I really enjoy that face to face interaction. It might be the human component to my job and understanding human interaction. I just love to get in front of people.

JB [25:42]: Good. Okay, one person you would invite to dinner? huh

JG [25:45]: Hm, my husband. Serial innovators don’t get a whole lot of time together.

JB [25:52]: Is his number one podcast Ask an Innovator, too? That was for him.

JG [25:58]: Yeah, no. Oh, gosh, I think if I had to invite someone to dinner outside of my own family, it would probably be Jeff Bezos. I’m just curious because what I’m really fascinated by is the way that he built up Amazon from a company that sold books online. And I know that There’s plenty of research out there that does that tell that story and describe that story.

But I would just love to get in his head and have a conversation about that vision and how much of that was predetermined and how much of that was accidental. And what he did with those happy accidents and the failures that when it came along the way. I think 15 years ago, 20 years ago, no one would have predicted it. And it’s just a fascinating journey. So I’d love to get behind into the process behind that.

JB [26:45]: Sure. Well, the good news is Jeff Bezos’s favorite podcast is Ask an Innovator so he’s listening. I’m sure he’ll, he’ll reach out so cool. Number three, one thing you’d bring with you on a desert island and it can’t be a person, so no husband.

JG [27:01]: All right. All right. One thing I’d bring with me on a desert island? Oh, I’m pretty resourceful, I’d use a lot of things off the desert island I already have. That’s a great question. I think I’d bring a pen. I think that would come in handy or just keep me sane. It would be a hard thing to recreate. And very frustrating. I’d like to think I could already make fire that’s, boy that’s kind of an ambitious goal.

JB [27:34]: Now would you want paper to go with it? Or would you? Where would you write?

JG [28:28]: That’s a funny thing. I think you can write on a lot of things. But the writing, maybe a Sharpie, a nice Sharpie marker. That might be more practical.

Yeah, I think you can solve so many problems, but I’m a really visual person in case you haven’t guessed that already. And it might be really frustrating and difficult to do without being able to make thoughts visual.

JB [28:04]: Good point. Very good point. What about the last book you read?

JG [28:08]: The last book I completed was Life of Pi. I’m in the middle of reading Loonshots now and that is a really fascinating innovation business book. The subtitle is how to nurture the crazy ideas that win wars, cure diseases, and transform industries. For people with a science background like mine, it’s especially fascinating because it connects physics principles to innovation process. I’ve had a few innovation colleagues actually recommend it to me because they feel like it’s been, it illuminates some of the practices behind their successful innovation programs as well.

JB [28:45]: Loonshots, I’m going to look that up. I have not read that book.

JG [28:49]: Yeah, it’s by Safi Bacall.

JB [28:51]: Okay, I wrote it down. In fact I’ve got it up on my Amazon right now. So I’m gonna check it out.

JG [28:58]: Yeah, it’s a well-written book too, fun to read. I like those.

JB [29:06]: It looks like it. What do James Bond and Lipitor have in common? Huh? So That’s the subtitle. Interesting. I’m going to take a look at that. Interesting. Okay, your favorite place you’ve traveled and why?

JG [29:15]: My favorite place I’ve traveled. I lived in Istanbul for seven months. And there is a city in Turkey called Cappadocia. And it has I off the top of my head. That is my favorite place I’ve traveled. And the reason is that it is just an ancient city that’s built into the stones and carved into the stone mountains.

And not only are you able to visit and look at that, but they actually will tour you down through the stones into the depths of the ground it go, we went down at least seven stories into the ground into these apartments and cities that were all built into this softer rock and I think that the opportunity just to dig into [literally] another culture, an ancient culture like that and see a different way of living and imagine what it was like to be in that environment and to walk the paths that those people walked was just just a fabulous, fascinating experience.

JB [30:18]: I think that fits probably in line with your, your innovation background where you’re almost like acting like an anthropologist, right? How do they live and how do they interact? And so that’s good.

JG [30:30]: Yeah, my new favorite topic to study for technology trends for our team is all around neuroscience. There’s so much happening and understanding how the brain works. I just love to understand what we’re learning about how healthy relationships are developed, or how people feel good, and how that connects to the activities and the chemicals and the structure of the brain.

There’s so much there that I think is going to drive future developments for products down the road when you think about the future and as the design engineering manager at Hallmark and an innovation leader, we have to think years ahead, three, four or five years ahead. And as those technologies begin to converge and neuroscience develops understandings of the science, at the same time, nanotechnology is developing new ways to release or create products and or even have different interfaces to products, along with robotics converging in with that, so that you can have different responses to the interaction with products.

I think that there’s so much that’s happening in that technology space and as it all comes to light together, what that makes possible is just really fascinating. It’s giving us a playbook that the pages aren’t even available yet. Much less are you able to write in it? And just seeing, how can you foretell? How can you see what that future looks like? What are the clues that are going to make it evident to what will we need to develop down the road? And as I mentioned earlier, where do we start building strength? What is the strength I’m going to need three years from now if we understand that the brain functions differently and a different type of interaction between people is needed?

JB [32:19]: Yeah, when is Hallmark going to develop a neurotransmitter that automatically knows when I need to send a card and write it all for me and send it in? Just by thought, right?

JG [32:29]: Yeah, we have no interest in being on the creepy side of things.

JB [32:36]: Yeah that would be a little bit creepy, I would admit that.

JG [32:38]: Yeah, yeah, we do have a patent on helping you determine though your own appearance through augmented reality. It’s kind of a cool one to look into as Halloween approaches. If you were able to pre-program, what you looked like to anyone viewing you through a smart device, what would that be? And how could that change our interactions with other human beings?

JB [33:03]: To elaborate on that? That’s interesting. Give me a little bit more details behind that.

JG [33:06]: Well, gosh, I’m not really sure.

JB [33:11]: Is it like software? That’s what I’m trying to envision in my mind. With AR VR like, what does this look like?

JG [34:21]: Yeah. So last year, we launched some VR cards. Speaking to developing capabilities, we have some people in our building who watch the virtual reality and augmented reality landscape very, very carefully. And we saw that the interest in virtual reality was peaking and it was becoming more accessible to consumers. And we launched a greeting card with really wonderful full pop-up paper mechanism built in the card that you could just tear out of the inside. Binding there, the card, pop up, slide your phone and then give someone a virtual reality experience.

We didn’t take anyone to Cappadocia, I’m kind of sad about that. But we did take people surfing or scuba diving or skiing or there was another one we did with a hot air balloon ride. And you could just pop your phone in your this virtual reality viewer that came in your card in an envelope in the mail and experience one of those really great destinations.

So thinking about that, we thought, well, what are what is the future of augmented reality or virtual reality? And what would it look like to play in that space in a strong way? And understanding that the interactions between people is so important, that’s where our team did apply for this patent and get granted this augmented reality patent around modifying your personal appearance to others. So the long answer to what you asked is we don’t really know yet. We’re building our way there.

JB [34:50]: Sure. Alright, next question. First thing you do in the morning?

JG [34:56]: First thing I do in the morning, gosh, I wake up and open my eyes and I check my phone. I’m a total dork, a very lame dork.

JB [35:02]: Hey, if you didn’t say that you checked your phone. I think at this point I’ve asked that question of four or five different people and they’ve said the same thing. Check my phone. So it almost becomes unusual if, “Oh, you don’t check your phone. Oh my goodness. Wow.” It’s impressive.

[JG 36:28]: Yeah. And it differs. You know, depending on my mood, what I’m checking. Sometimes I’m honestly just checking into a little Candy Crush. Maybe I’ll try and open my eyes if I can be incentivized with a little dopamine release through some game win.

JB [35:35]: Oh, nice. And what about what do you do to unwind?

JG [35:37]: Gosh, you know what I do to unwind? I get out of my building. I actually go hang out with my kids. My kids are five and seven, Tess and Orion and I would love to go to their school. I love to see what they’re doing. I love to hang out with them and their classmates. And we love to do a lot of science fair projects, I guess just exploring technology at a really, really early age and sharing that with other kids. I love to play. If you asked me like, what is my personal life passion, it’s around play. I’ll play games when I wake up in the morning. And if I’m unwinding, I can play games with my kids. I think that just any form of play brings me such joy and I use it so broadly,

JB [36:19]: That’s good. Too many people overwork and don’t have that balance. It sounds like that’s a that’s not a problem with you. That’s a very good skill to have.

JG [36:27]: Well, you might have heard that it’s also all research at the same time? human interactions are really, your insight into human interaction is pretty poor if you don’t spend time with humans.

JB [36:40]: That’s right. Very accurate. Alright, what about what area of innovation interests you the most? And outside of work?

JG [38:05]: Outside of work what area of innovation interests me the most? I would say the intersection of emerging behaviors and emerging technologies. And where those two paths cross. When technology is accessible, how it impacts someone’s life? How it’s used by people? The unintentional behaviors and uses. I think that everything in my life could be answered with an action verb. And so understanding the actions of people based on their surroundings and their environment.

So the area of technology is really about emerging behaviors, emerging technologies, how they influence each other when technologies are ready, when people are ready. And then those unanticipated things. I just love it when we don’t know how someone’s going to respond to something or what they’ll do or demand that we had no idea was going to be important. Had an example yesterday, I’m trying to think of it. I was just talking with someone about I think we’re talking about shopping. And how yes, it makes sense that when you’re shopping in an aisle now you price check. Or maybe you order it online because it’s cheaper there and you don’t need it for a few days. But you saw in the store, what I’m really excited about with that space is what’s that going to look like in the future?

Well, what we understand now about omnichannel and mobile shopping. Is that is so it’s so base-level functional. Price, save money, get it in time. And of course, showcasing you know, showcasing an object there in the brick and mortar stores is so understood, so well understood. I think we’ve barely scratched the surface of what that’s going to look like in the future. And I think there’s a lot of theories out there and a lot of hypotheses I’ve read and listen to. But I don’t think anyone really fully knows how technology is going to change that yet.

JB [38:48]: Very good point. Yeah, that is a fascinating area. Talking about Jeff Bezos is definitely, they’re definitely disrupting a lot of different industries. So it’s very interesting to see some of those changes that you’re talking about and how the disruptors in the industry are shaking things up and what the future might hold.

JG [39:03]: Yeah, definitely. And being in consumer goods in the consumer goods industry, of course, that’s very, very important.

JB [39:10]: Well, that was it that was the Ask an Innovator Hot Seat. So any other topics that you that we didn’t hit on, Jennifer? That were on your list? That you thought might be interesting?

JG [39:18]: Oh, there is one thing. We touched on it a bit about when you asked you know, what kind of cool things do we have coming down the pipeline or what’s new and different? And I think that’s something I’ve heard mentioned briefly on some of the other Ask an Innovator podcasts and that I would reiterate is, it is really important to understand what you mean by innovation. Especially if you’re the person in your organization that’s charged with delivering innovation, or even if you’re the Chief Innovation Officer.

Understanding from your leadership, what they actually mean by that, and you all ask it very, very well, when you get innovators on this podcast. But defining that internally to your company. I think a lot of times we just operate under the with the understanding that we need to deliver innovation. And we don’t even check back in to make sure that the innovation definition is correct. And that’s just something that I’ve seen in our experience at Hallmark. It changes and as it changes over time, we can be more or less successful with it.

JB [41:50]: Well, how do you define innovation then?

JG [40:27]: Of course you’d asked that right on the heels of that monologue! I would define innovation as either reaching new people, new consumers, or as a new product or having something in a new place or at a new time. I think it’s really easy if you do think kind of scientifically, it’s about space, time, people, or product. Iwould say that is space, time, people or things. One of those at least needs to be new.

JB [40:51]: That makes perfect sense. And do you feel like that Hallmark has a different definition?

JG [40:55]: I think that Hallmark defines innovation differently by the person who’s asking for it. And then you know, by the team responsible for delivering it. As I mentioned, with such a large creative workforce, so many people are delivering innovation at Hallmark, and that definition is definitely different for each team. Completely different.

We have innovation, just side by side on the card rack today you’ll see a greeting card that folds out into an elaborate paper structure that could be, it could be a cactus garden or Noah’s Ark. Next to, you know, four feet away will have a greeting card that when you open it pops up into the shape of a toilet with flushing and fart sounds. And those, those two things are so very, very different with such different enabling technologies and different skills that were needed to create them that they’re both innovation. And they’re both necessary. There isn’t a right answer. The only answer that wouldn’t be right is something that your company or your consumers not looking for it all

JB [42:04]: Right. You don’t want to build something that no one uses or wants.

JG [42:07]: Yeah, if you build it, they don’t necessarily come, do they?

JB [42:10]: Exactly. That is not innovation. Yep. Awesome. Jennifer, I really appreciate you coming on and chatting about innovation. It’s been a great chat and conversation.

JG [42:22]: Thank you. It’s been wonderful talking with you and I appreciate the opportunity.

DHL’s Innovation Center is the Future of Logistics


Gina Chung is the Vice President and Head of Innovation Americas at DHL. Gina leads the research and innovation activities of DHL and is in charge of the DHL Americas Innovation Center: a state-of-the-art platform to engage startups and industries on the future of logistics. Since 2012, she has shaped DHL’s global innovation agenda by driving a portfolio of projects focused on the rapid testing and adoption of technologies such as collaborative robotics and artificial intelligence across DHL’s operations.

Brad and Gina discuss DHL’s new Innovation Center and how it creates a unique customer-centric approach to logistics innovation. They cover everything from how DHL is predicting trends to why startups are important to DHL’s innovation process.

Connect with Ask an Innovator.

Brad Hammond & Gina Chung at DHL Innovation Center


The DHL Innovation Center
The DHL Innovation Center Media Release
Request a Visit!


Gina talks about the DHL Innovation Center – 01:10
The future of innovation in logistics – 06:35
Gina walks us through DHL’s wearables innovation – 07:40
Predictive analytics and how they affect logistics– 09:10
How & Why DHL works with startups – 10:21
Innovation Hotseat with Gina Chung– 11:39
Innovation is not technology – 15:06

How can you measure innovation and success? – 17:31
DHL’s Trend Radar – 18:54


Brad Hammond [00:13]: Welcome to Ask an Innovator. My name is Brad Hammond. I’m your host this week. Josh, your normal host is out at CES Las Vegas, checking out some neat things with some clients and customers. Today we have Gina Chung. And she is at DHL in Innovation. And I’ll let her kind of take it from here and introduce herself.

Gina Chung [00:34]: All right. Hi, everyone, I’m very happy to be on the podcast. So I’m Gina Chung. I’m Vice President and Head of Innovation Americas for DHL and I’ve been with the company for seven years. My role primarily is to engage with our customers, partners, as well as internal operations to leverage new technologies to improve logistics processes.

BH [00:59]: Awesome. Well, it’s nice to have you Gina. We’re here in one of DHL’s Innovation Centers. So if you could, maybe tell me a bit about where we’re at and yourself, I’d love to hear it.

GC [01:10]: Okay, great. Maybe I’ll start a bit with DHL because I know that not everyone is familiar with who we are and what we do. So DHL, it’s the world’s largest and leading logistics company headquartered in Germany. We operate in over 220 countries and territories with over 550,000 employees.

So we operate at a very, very large scale. And what we want to do is we want to be not just the leading logistics provider, but also the leading innovator in the industry. And one of the ways that we do this is through our Innovation Center approach. We use these Innovation Centers, we’re actually at one of our most recent Innovation Centers here in Chicago.

Innovation Centers they are built to put, they’re actually purpose-built to engage with our customers on the future of their supply chain, to engage with our customers on challenges that they’re facing in their industry, and then to come to a joint roadmap, with our customers on potential innovations that we could pursue together.

BH [02:11]: Excellent. So could you tell me a bit about the space we’re in? So when I walked in, I saw this amazing space. It’s hard to even describe but it’s, kind of, you have different stations, all sorts of things set up. It’s really neat. So could you tell me a bit about where we’re at and where we’re sitting in right now?

GC [02:29]: Sure. So the Innovation Center here in Chicago, we just launched it in September 2019. So it’s a brand new facility. It’s 28,000 square feet. And it’s purpose-built. In terms of the showroom that we’re actually sitting in right now, it showcases many of the different trends that we see impacting the industry, as well as also some of the tangible solutions that we’re beginning to pilot or have already started to implement across our business.

So you’ll see many robotics and automation solutions at the Innovation Center. We don’t just showcase the robots. We also share some of the tangible insights that we’ve gathered from our robotics projects, as well as some of the challenges. There is also a variety of different demos that we’re able to give off some of the platform solutions that we’re developing together with partners, for example, surrounding visibility or temperature control.

So I always say it’s we’ve got, probably almost all logistics innovations here under one roof. And depending on who you are, depending on the customer’s industry, we’re able to customize the content in the innovation center so that we only present the most relevant topics and solutions.

BH [03:37]: So what would that look like then? So if I’m one of your customers, I think you said you have 10,000 people or so that kind of walk through these centers, what does that process look like to kind of come out to DHL and visit one of these innovation centers?

GC [03:53]: So globally with our Innovation Center in Germany, as well as in Singapore, now in Chicago, we have around 15,000 visitors. And what a visit typically looks like is there’s a lot of pre-alignment that goes on and that’s because we apply a customer-centric approach to innovation at DHL.

We really want to first understand what are our customer’s pain points, what are their challenges? And from that, we then tailor the experience. So a couple of calls, a couple of meetings even upfront, without customers to really understand what are the topics they want to focus on? Is it innovations pertinent to distribution, to transportation, last mile? Do they want to focus more on visibility? Do they want to focus on their industry so you know, pharmaceutical supply chain versus an automotive supply chain?

So there’s a lot of pre-alignment that happens. We then set the date for the visit here. We also make sure that for their visit, we have the right people around the table. So we have the right kind of executive-level decision makers joining these visits with our customers. We have partners joining these visits sometimes as well to present as an expert so that when they come to the Innovation Center we’re able to they’re able to leave with decisions and commitment as well.

BH [05:05]: So maybe you could tell me a bit about how the Innovation Center ties into your overall innovation strategy at DHL and how that’s evolved over the last few years as well?

GC [05:16]: I think evolves the right word, because it has evolved a lot since I joined over seven years ago. So I would say, seven years ago innovation, it’s part of our DNA, but it was nowhere near as where it is today, which is at the height of our corporate agenda.

So when we first started seven years ago, with this new customer-centric innovation approach, I think innovation was a lot more about how can we leverage these new technologies directly with our customers and their operations? But it has since evolved into how can we leverage innovation across our entire network across our entire operations?

And if you follow DHL, we actually released our new corporate strategy in September last year, which outlined our vision for 2025. And that is to deliver excellence in a digitalized world. So our new corporate strategy, it centers itself around digitalization. We see it as the next turning point. And our company’s evolution of if I can put it like that.

So we’re investing over $2 billion in the next five years, just on digitalization. And the Innovation Centers are a key part of that transformation, a part of that investment as well to accelerate change, essentially, in the company.

BH [06:28]: Now, what are some key areas of innovation you see within logistics, you know, the next 5, 10, 20, even 50 years?

GC [06:35]: That’s a big time-frame. I would say just in the next five to 10 years. Again, it depends on the market. But in my regional role, if I look at here in North America, for example, the biggest topics I see are robotics and automation, especially in our warehousing business.

Just the speed at which, you know, new solutions are being developed and coming to market and the results it’s delivering, I can just see the tipping point. We’re approaching it very soon for autonomous forklifts, you know, spreading across our operations, all sorts of different autonomous mobile robots being leveraged.

Analytics is another big topic and has been for many years now in the company. I think that’s one that’s relevant to all regions. There’s so much that companies can do from you know, tapping into the data. It’s no secret. But we still have so much more to go. Even though we started the journey many years ago.

BH [07:26]: I think you’re even showing me just some innovations you guys were working on. You know, the analytics platform and then even some safety and equipment stuff that you’re working on in warehouse, could you go into a little more detail and kind of a couple of those projects?

GC [07:40]: Sure. So maybe I’ll pick the wearables one that we touched on briefly. So we’re, we’ve been also looking at digitalization, not just from a pure, you know, how can we make things move faster? But also how can we leverage technology to improve the lives of our workforce and health and safety in our workforce?

One of the projects that we started last year, here in the US, was the use of wearables to improve movements in our operations. So it’s a wearable device that you can attach to your belt, and it can detect whether you are bending, twisting, reaching correctly. That really is determined by: if you’re using your knees or if you’re, you know, balanced properly.

The wearable device, it’s incredible how much you can pick up just from, one location on your body. We started the pilot in the US, saw tremendously positive results from our first pilot, expanded that to a longer pilot end of last year with over 500 devices being used.

We’ve seen that by using these devices, not only do we significantly reduce the number of wrong movements in our operations, we can also reduce the number of back injuries as well as also serious workplace injuries. This translates into a healthier workforce, obviously, but also, you know, reduced sick days for the employer as well. So I think that’s just one great example of how you can leverage technology in a very positive way and in a way that also helps your workforce.

BH [09:02]: That’s awesome. And you’re showing me too, the predictive analytics platform as well? That was really neat. Could you tell me a bit more about that?

GC [09:10]: Going back to the Innovation Center in Germany, one of the big asks of our customers around, now six years ago, was DHL with your global footprint and expertise in logistics, how can you, help me predict some of the risks that are going to happen to my supply chain?

This was around about the time that they were those natural disasters happening in Japan with the earthquake and the tsunami, with Iceland and the volcano. That actually started the journey for us as a company to develop Resilience 360, which is now one of the industry’s leading platforms to predict risks and to manage supply chain risks. What it does is it leverages data from a variety of different internal as well as external sources to predict any type of risks, whether it’s weather-related, whether it might be supplier-related, social-political risks, and alert our customers in near real-time, 24 seven of disruptions to their supply chain.

BH [10:06]: That’s awesome. So shifting gears a little bit here you’re showing me how DHL involves the startup community within your innovation approach. Can you tell me a little bit more about how startups are involved and how you engage them in innovation?

GC [10:21]: Sure. I think startups for us, they are a key source of innovation for DHL. So we partner, I would say the vast majority of our innovation projects we partner with startups in robotics and analytics and wearables. And what we do is we have a team at DHL that scouts startups based on the challenges and needs of our business and of our customers. And then we engage through a proof of concept.

If it’s a very brand new use case that we haven’t explored yet or a pilot, if it’s something we’re more familiar with, we do this in a very agile way so that we can very quickly test if something works or if it doesn’t work. And if it works, we then move it further along and our final to industrialize it, to then scale it across all operations. We will really do this in a very close, tight-knit partnership approach.

BH [11:09]: Why did you decide to go kind of the startup route instead of doing all the innovation internally at DHL?

GC [11:14]: Sure, I think that has changed as well over time. Maybe in the past, we did a lot more of the innovation work in house, you know developing our own sensors, developing hardware ourselves. We just realized with the speed of technology that we can’t be the ones developing everything. And that’s what really drove us to partner with startups early on, to almost see them as an extended development arm of our innovation activities.

BH [11:39]: Hey Gina, let’s take a break and you’re in the Innovation Hot Seat now. So I want to hear a little bit more about you. And I want to hear some answers to some of these questions that I’m going to kind of throw your way. So, first question is, what podcasts do you subscribe to?

GC [11:57]: This is probably going to be very controversial, but I don’t actually subscribe to any podcasts.

BH [12:03]: Really? Okay, well, maybe one now. Okay. Are there any other people you follow or blogs you read? Anything as a replacement for that?

GC [12:16]: I’m a huge reader. So maybe that’s why I don’t listen to podcasts so much. I love reading articles and reading books. And I just finished Superintelligence, which I thought was excellent. I also love watching YouTube videos, probably How It’s Made is one of my favorite channels since I was a kid. So just yeah, those are probably the ways that I read and follow up on things.

BH [12:37]: So if you were able to invite one person to dinner that’s alive today, who would it be and why?

GC [19:39]: Oh, my God. One person, that’s alive and invite to dinner? I would probably invite Stephen Hawking. Huge fan of his work. And I also have a little bit of an interest in astrophysics as well.

BH [13:03]: Awesome. What’s your favorite place that you’ve traveled to? And why?

GC [13:08]: Favorite place that I’ve traveled to, I think probably the place that I’ve enjoyed the most. Now I’m gonna get in trouble for saying this one. So let me just think, I was gonna say New Zealand. I’m like, that’s where I’m from. Yeah, I think probably the favorite place that I’ve traveled to is Cambodia. I really enjoyed the people and the culture there.

BH [13:28]: Awesome. So what’s the first thing you do every morning?

GC [13:31]: First thing that I do every morning is I read messages so I’m from New Zealand mentioned this now a couple of times so it’s not that interesting but because I, you know, move around a lot, I travel a lot and I still try to keep in touch with my friends and family back home in New Zealand. With the timezone difference, it’s typical that when I wake up there’s a lot of leftover messages from them. So I usually use the time in the morning to talk to them or to catch up on messages.

BH [13:57]: So outside of work, what aspect of innovation is most interesting to you?

GC [14:02]: So I love innovation in my private life as well. So always interested in what are the latest, you know, apps and products on the market. Always eager to test new things. In my apartment, recently, I have started wiring everything so that I can have a truly smart home. Which is easier said than done funnily enough.

BH [14:21]: As you’re putting together your Smart Home what’s a surprise or something that you really enjoyed or found yourself using a lot more than you thought?

GC [14:21]: I think you have to be very specific with I think a lot of the smart home technology, it’s voice-enabled and I didn’t realize you have to be very specific with you know, different commands. So you know, Alexa, turn off the lamp. You have to specify which lamp and you can’t say it’s a light, it has to be the lamp. So I think the technology still has a few more steps to go. But that’s been one of the small surprises from my smart home experiment.

BH [14:59]: Awesome. Well, that’s it for that segment. Is there anything else we want to discuss?

GC [15:06]: I think one part that I always like to stress with customers and people that I come across when we talk about innovation is that innovation is not technology. And I know I say this, as we talk about, we’re sitting here at the Innovation Center. It’s full of robots and other technologies being exhibited here. But for us, you know, the Innovation Center, it’s really about a platform to change people’s mindsets. To change our company culture, which is oftentimes overlooked.

You can take a robot put it into a warehouse. But at the end of the day, it’s people doing that, people signing off on enabling that. So we also focus a lot on that kind of cultural change and change management. And I always ask our customers and our management to not overlook that part in the process.

BH [15:48]: What have you found to be a successful approach to that? And are there any things you’ve learned as you’ve done change management? And I know you’re showing me the user persona map as well?

GC [16:00]: I mentioned this actually at another panel recently, but when you do these cutting edge innovation projects, I always say, you know, try to get the right people on board. And by that, I don’t mean you know, the management and the CEOs. I mean, also the people that are going to be at the ground level using the technology.

When we do you know, the robotics projects, it’s not with management only It’s also with the guys down on the shop floor. You know, we get their opinion. We have many groups of operations managers and general managers coming through the innovation centers as well.

We make it a very inclusive process and do not have just the top-level aligned to our innovation objectives. But also people on the front line, feeling comfortable with the technology that we’re presenting. And at the end of the day, trying to get them to adopt.

BH [16:48]: Do you ever find that there’s resistance to innovation? And how do you kind of work through that?

GC [16:52]: I think there’s always resistance to the unknown. It’s uncomfortable, right? But what I’ve found actually quite remarkable in the last seven years is there hasn’t been a single innovation project that we’ve brought or introduced to our operations where the people have said they don’t want it.

I think that’s because if you go to operations, a lot of it can be so paper-based. A lot of it can be so manual. You know, it’s very repetitive tasks that these innovations that we’re introducing it makes their lives easier. And hopefully, they see that as well. And I think that’s been the case so far.

BH [17:25]: How do you define success within the innovation projects that you’re working in?

GC [17:31]: I think success is measured in a number of different ways. So one part is, of course, you know, the productivity metrics. At the end of the day, we’re still a logistics company. We need to make sure that we’re delivering on the numbers. One part is BCA, the ROI and all of that, but it’s also a success in terms of other measures.

Can it help us to recruit more effectively? Is it also helping us to retain talent and our workforce more effectively? Is it also generating a change in culture in the operations or within a business unit? So I think, success in terms of innovation is measured quite broadly at DHL.

BH [18:08]: Have you developed any sort of frameworks for defining that or standard processes in which you kind of go through for defining success?

GC [18:17]: Yeah I mean, with the projects and operations there are the standard metrics. Because we are very results-oriented. But then at a higher level, we will talk about the impact of the Innovation Center for the company. We have, you know, our customer satisfaction scores, we have feedback from our customers being measured here. That all ties into one report that our management can see.

BH [18:40]: Now, you mentioned to me a trends report and that sort of thing that you publish. Can you tell me a bit more about reports and things that you guys create and how you stay at the forefront of leading this industry?

GC [18:54]: So the trend reports and our Trend Radar here, I showed it to you briefly. That’s also one thing that we share back to the industry. So I always say one of the big privileges of having these Innovation Centers is that we get to listen to over 15,000 opinions from logistics professionals and from technology professionals. And we distill that into our Logistics Trend Radar, which is actually the second most downloaded document on DHL’s website.

The Trend Radar captures 28 or so different trends that we think will be most relevant to the industry in the next five to 10 years. From the Trend Radar, we take a topic, for example, robotics and automation and produce a trend report. The reason why we do these reports is that being in the logistics industry, you know, you look at our workforce, we’re not full of, technologists, not many of us are developers, we have an engineering background.

For us to get up to speed and digest these new technologies and concepts, these trend reports they’re very kind of bite-sized. It explains you know, what is robotics? What’s happening on the market? How do other companies use robotics? And then what does it really mean for the logistics industry? What are some of the concrete use cases that we can see for robotics and distribution and sorting and last mile?

It’s kind of ideas on paper that gets the discussion going. And we publish these reports publicly for all and our customers really enjoy them. They can read it on a flight home, they get a much better understanding about the topic. They get what it means for their supply chain for the industry. And then they usually use that to have a further discussion with us on one or two use cases that they thought were really interesting and relevant for their operations.

BH [20:34]: So is there anything else you’d like to say to any of your customers, listeners, others and logistics, things we haven’t talked about mentioned?

GC [20:44]: I think yeah, maybe one final point is a lot of the times, you know, customers or even internally at DHL people look to us or look to me and ask me to come up with ideas. And it really takes a kind of partnership approach. And it’s a two-way street, or maybe it’s a multi street with more partners involved, but it really takes a multitude of parties to drive action. So my main message is always you know, it takes two to tango. So, you know, we’re always ready to engage. And I hope that you know, others listening will also like to engage with us.

BH [21:15]: Thanks so much, Gina, this is a pleasure getting to come here to the Innovation Center and talk with you and really talk about innovation within DHL.

GC [21:27]: Pleasure, thank you.

How to Innovate in the Snack Industry

Cindy Poiesz and Mickey Burnett from Evolve Brands join us on AAI today. Evolve Brands prioritizes eating nourishing food that can sustain you in between meals, or more mindful snacking. Cindy & Mickey school us on all things plant-based snacks and what the consumer REALLY wants.

Learn how Cindy got started and how she and Mickey are scaling Evolve to become a household brand. Listen in for a glimpse into startup life. Additionally, they explain how changing packaging and the form of your product can change the demand.

Use Code: CITY for 20% your next Supernola order!

Connect with Evolve Foods:


What is innovation in the snacking industry? – 00:46
Innovation is authenticity – 02:07
How Evolve Snacks got started – Cindy’s story 03:46
How did Evolve Snacks grow? – 06:41
How Packaging and Form can be innovative for the snack industry – 10:02
The challenges of having a small CPG company – why it’s hard being small – 14:05
Why networking is essential – 14:52
How being small allows for more agility and quick decision making– 18:10
Always listen, to consumers, customers, and retailers – 21:21


Josh Barker [0:00]: Welcome to Ask an Innovator. Today, I’ve got Mickey Burnett, he’s the VP of Marketing and Sales for Evolve Brand Snacks. And we’ve got Cindy Poiesz. She’s the Managing Partner of Evolve Snacks. Welcome, guys. This is the first episode, I’ll say, that I think we’ve interviewed two people at once.

Cindy Poiesz [00:31]: We’re two peas in a pod.

Mickey Burnett [00:32]: We love being the first.

JB [00:33]: That’s good. That’s awesome. So I’ll hit it right off and ask you guys the question. What is innovation to you guys, and then we’ll bleed that right into and talk a little bit about Evolve Snacks?

MB [00:46]: So, you know, I find innovation really about finding that unmet consumer need. That want and sometimes they don’t even know that they need that really solves a problem. Whether it’s a service or a product. It doesn’t have to be like new and I think as we were talking before the podcast. It doesn’t have to be like a crazy new iPhone.

I think it’s, you know, evolving, no pun intended, evolving things that are already out there. One of the examples I like to use is like the beef jerky industry. Nobody knew they needed gourmet beef jerky or healthier beef jerky. It was a category that was flat and stagnant. Then you had brands like Country Archer and Crave and things like that come out. And really drive innovation in the category and really invigorate a category that maybe was primarily store based to being across and having really nice presence across all channels of trade.

And I think for us, innovation is really a being a plant-based snacking company with our brands, Supernola and Gorilly Goods. I think plant-based snacking is really an innovative space that’s going to grow over the next 10 years. We’ve seen stats that in the US, it’s going to be anywhere from a $23 to $25 billion category. In the next nine years and globally by 2028. They’re saying it’s gonna be a $73 billion category as consumers start to really monitor this 80/20 lifestyle of being very active and very healthy.

And how can they replace some of their traditional snacks with things that are better than right and feel better about what they’re putting in their body?

CP [02:07]: Yeah. So for me, I think true innovation is something that really advances society forward. You know, when I think of innovation through the years, I think of those things that really changed everything. And everyone’s life somehow. So when we apply that to what we’re doing for us, it’s, you know, the way that we do things here, we’re trying to change CPG companies at the core. So we’re trying to do everything the right way for a ground up. And that obviously includes our products, but it includes the way that we do everything, the way that we think about everything, trying to really innovate and influence others to do the same throughout the whole process.

MB [02:43]: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think one of the things is authenticity is a point of innovation in the category right now and in the food space. I think having a founder that has a real story on why they got into things, how you produce things, how you treat your employees. You know, in our plants we use 100% renewable energy. We upcycle, recycle, and compost, for instance.

I think that’s one of the things that you’re seeing a lot of the smaller companies and the up and coming snacking companies in our space. They are really driving authenticity and consumers are starting to latch on. So whether it’s philanthropy or how you make the products. And as Cindy said, that’s something all of those components, we’re trying to use those three pillars on our business. Whether it’s philanthropy, sustainability, and transparency. That’s how we’re building the business. But I think that’s a big space that’s going to continue to grow with consumers and their need to know the supply chain and that there’s a clean supply chain. And also, how are you treating your employees and all those things.

JB [03:34]: Yeah. That’s not only what you’re producing is how you produce.

MB [03:37]: Yeah, exactly.

JB [03:38]: Yeah. That’s great. That’s great. Now you mentioned Cindy’s story. I love love, though, if you go into a little bit of your story.

CP [03:46]: Yeah. So my background is actually in finance. I spent five years doing corporate investment banking for energy companies, actually. So oil and gas companies, you know, some of the very controversial things. But I always was sick like growing up, I was always sick. And so it all kind of came to a head when I had this really intense job and I was just a mess. And I realized I need to really get a handle of my health and figure out what’s going on.

Doctors could never really tell me. And back then, like food sensitivity, testing wasn’t a thing. So I had to just figure it out on my own. So I started really listening to my body, which is something that I always suggest to people figure out what my body likes and what my body doesn’t like.

Then once I figured that out, my problem was snacking, you know. I would have all my food at my desk every day. By three o’clock I would be starving because I ate all my food and I needed a good snack that I would want to reach for ahead of everything else. That gave me all the nutrients and all the energy that I wanted that just had everything in one bite.

So I started making it for myself and then I just became obsessed with superfoods and different healing foods of different cultures. And really just getting into it. I always liked baking and this was really my you know, my passion project for myself and I never thought it would turn into something like this.

But you know when you follow your passion you kind of go a little crazy.

MB [05:04]: I think I always find some of the best founders or innovators or people who didn’t plan on starting a company when I first met Frank, um Cindy, who I met through our other partner, Frank, who I used to work with years ago. I liked it. She didn’t have an idea of like, I’ve got to start a company and do this. It was for her own needs and realized that she talked to her friend group that it was something that other people were onto, and she started, “Okay, well, I’ll keep my day job. Let me try it at a farmers market.”

And so I think there’s such an authentic story about how that came about. It was very organic. It wasn’t okay, I’m going to start a CPG company and I’m going to be super powerful and now I grow this business I’m going to lead the industry was like. I just want to make a change for the better, for myself. And then Cindy, she always says that, I’m probably putting words your mouth but I know you always say that, you know? Wow, how can I help other people? People started tasting and saying plant-based organic can be good.

Plant-based can have all these unique ingredients. You don’t have to just have three ingredients in a product and say simple ingredients. It’s great for you. You can have nine to 11 ingredients in products. Every ingredient can have a purpose and everything can taste great. And you can feel good about what you put in your body.

JB [06:10]: So Cindy, were you literally like in an apron in your kitchen just making these things?

CP [06:14]: I was. Yeah, and I have pictures to prove it.

JB [06:17]: Really? Oh, nice. We should post that on the website.

CP [06:20]: They’re not very attractive.

JB [06:23]: Oh, that’s awesome. So from there it really, how did you take the next step? So everyone was really excited about it and was like you were sharing with different people. And they were tasting and saying how good it was? Did you just say, I think now’s the time then for me to start something or did it take some push? How did that come about?

CP [06:41]: Yeah. So I was in LA at the time doing farmer’s markets. And that’s when I realized, you know, wow, people are really responding to this well. This is really checking off all their boxes that they’re looking for. They’re coming back and buying it again and they come back every week. Everybody always asked me you know, I want to take the leap, but how do you actually do it. And for me, that story’s a little bit different than most people, I didn’t expect myself to ever take the leap.

My dad was diagnosed with ALS. It kind of changed the way that I thought about everything, and really drove me to discover my passion. You know I wanted to move home and have the free time to be able to spend time with my family. And through that, it allowed me to do this. So you know, kind of turning a bad situation into a good one. It turned into what we have today.

JB [07:29]: Yeah, that’s good. And I know you guys are just following that trend beautifully of the market. Because the market right now is really trending towards being very aware of what’s in our food, right? Of looking at it and saying, I mean, we’re all getting more aware with more information, the internet, and all that stuff. Now we can actually say, this is bad and this is good and we need it. We need to improve our lifestyle. And so this just sounds like a natural thing that the market sounds like really adopting to.

CP [07:53]: Yeah and so much of business is timing, too. The brand that we purchased, that’s a part of our portfolio, Gorilly Goods. They were really ahead of the trends when they started six years ago. And it really took time to get to the point where it is today where mainstream consumers are ready to adopt that. But so much of it is timing. Right time right place, too.

MB [08:16]: Yeah. And I think I think continuing, there are so many more categories out there, that still we’ve got some things in our pipeline that are in snacking and variants of snacking. That can be plant-based that can be organic, that people still haven’t maximized yet. And if they’ve done it, there’s some that they’ve done that just don’t taste good, too. I mean, I’m sure you probably tasted some. You know, we always try to put, you know, healthy food in my kids’ mouths, and sometimes there’s like, Oh, that’s terrible.

And I think there’s still space out there, whether it’s kids or there are variants of snacking that we’re looking at as we grow, to drive growth. And I mean, our goal was not to have two brands. Our goal was to build a plant-based organic snacking portfolio of a company. And I think that’s one of the things that attracted me to come work with Cindy and Frank was, it wasn’t just like Gorilly Goods and Supernola. Yeah, yes, we are leading with Supernola and Supernola is going to be our lead brand. But as we look, you know, two to four years out, we’d like to have three to four total brands that have this same mission that are very mindful in their approach from the manufacturing, to how we treat our staff, to how we give, have philanthropy in all our brands.

And I think there’s going to continue to be a lot of space to provide great products with great authenticity and a great story that consumers want to hear about. I mean, it’s such an Instagram world that people are so intrigued by stories they want to know more and if you kind of fit that notch for them of being authentic and having a great story they want to follow you and want to support you.

JB [09:45]: So for those you know, I love that, you’re building a portfolio of these different healthy snacks. What are some of the other things that you guys are seeing on the horizon as you’re talking about, you know, you’re leading with some two of your core products? What about the other couple of ones? Can you talk a little bit about those? Are those open knowledge yet?

MB [10:02]: I will talk about what’s kind of out there. I mean, our stuff is still pretty new. So, you know, there’s basically one category but I think plant-based for us and what we’re seeing is that we don’t make a bar. And but we want to be in the single-serve snack section which is primarily bars right now. And what we’re seeing is that being a cluster that has multiple usage occasions, a bar is a bar you sitting either at home, you eat it in the car, you can be at different places, but it always going to be like a bar.

Clusters you can eat, like, you know, in a car, you can eat them on the road and on the train if you’re commuting. But they also can be put on milk, almond milk, things like that. They can be put in yogurt. So there are multiple usage cases, I think you’re going to start to see like what we’ve done that the bar fatigue is going to start to benefit different forms. And I know that’s so simple that basically it’s broken up clusters instead of a bar, but we hear from retailers and big retailers who tell us that there’s bar fatigue right now, so many competitors, because there are so many.

There are so many co-manufacturers that can do that out there. It’s an easy thing to turn on. What we do and the way we make stuff we don’t roast, we don’t bake, we dehydrate, and that’s actually new as well.

And I think the way, especially that we’re doing Gorilly Goods and Supernola, there’s nobody really doing that. And for the size of our company, it’s really weird that we have this massive dehydrator, you can drive a truck into. We can build it but it makes it very flavorful. It makes it very soft from a Supernola perspective, the longer you keep it in, then it makes it really crunchy, but it keeps the flavors in there.

I think the form is going to continue to be a small innovation that people can take advantage of in the space. I think there are some pack types that are probably there’s pack type innovation in the space that can be taken multi-packs that you can get them in boxes now. But what’s the next step of that? What’s the next evolution? So I think, you know, plant-based, they’re still cool plant-based things we see out there that are growing and you’ve seen some pretty cool plant-based competitors. But I think there’s a lot of, I think the sky’s the limit right now.

JB [12:05]: What do you guys see in the next couple of years in this snacking industry? Obviously, plant-based. What else? What other trends do you guys see in the snacking industry?

CP [12:14]: Well, I mean, you have to say Keto right now because that is the big trend right now. But I’m not sure if that I consider that a fad and in my kind of mindset. So those are things, you know, you take advantage of when you can, but you don’t bet your whole portfolio on it. But plant-based meat right now is crazy. And you know, they’re raising so much money. There are so many competitors, the big guys are getting into it, too, because they see the importance of it. But the small guys are really growing and finding those different unique things that people never even thought about, you know, like plant-based seafood. Who would have thought about that and then shining a light on the sustainability impacts that that has?

But then in snacking, I mean, you’re seeing global flavors a lot. You’re seeing some really interesting flavor combinations out there. And that’s kind of where we play where we’re looking to play too. Kind of giving people that wow factor that when they take a bite, their eyes light up and they say, Wow, I didn’t expect that. That’s really kind of what we’re going for ourselves.

MB [13:15]: Yeah, I think if you look what my big CPG experience, as you look five years ago, the consumer is really going out on an edge from a flavor perspective, it was coconut. And that was edgy. And that was really trying to get consumers out of their comfort zone. I think we’re kind of moving past that. I think, you know, that was four or five years ago, and consumers are expecting things like goji and having lemongrass in there as a backup flavor and having different things like that.

So I think there’s, as Cindy said the global flavors and the unique flavors. I think people want to be adventurous and it shows. The palette of the US is changing the really kind of embrace that. I think, you know, that it’s slow. I mean, it’s glacial, but I think, we’re going to see a lot of movement that way as well.

JB [13:59]: What are some challenges you guys see in the marketplace?

CP [14:05]: I mean, for CPG companies, it’s small. It’s hard being small. Yeah, you know, all the big guys have so much money to pour into marketing and they can make the consumer believe whatever they want to believe whether it’s true or not. You know, we don’t have unlimited dollars to spend to educate consumers. So we have to get a little more creative. But it’s really, it’s hard to be small and to grow. It’s also very crowded.

I feel like the tech boom, a lot of tech entrepreneurs have turned into food now. So now it’s even more crowded. You have all these tech people coming into food, which for some categories is great, like plant-based meat and everything. But for others that can just really crowd it. But I mean, the number one thing is just it’s hard to be small and to grow and to get to the level that we’re looking to get.

MB [14:52]: I think it comes down to attention. How do you get retailers attention? We were joking earlier that just getting them to return your phone call. Like, hey, we’re different. We tell you how we’re different. And getting that five minutes with them. I think it’s also getting the attention of investors. And I think there are some CPG companies out there and smaller startups that have had success, sold them off, and now they’re starting other ones, and they’re getting that attention.

And sometimes, the second, you know, the second course isn’t always as great as the first. But they’re dragging some of that money with them. And I think, you know, just making sure to get the attention of investors and showing, hey, we’re different. We’ve got a growth model, which is a challenge. You know, coming from big CPG never had to worry about but I think, you know, Cindy’s got a great background in that and we’ve got a great strategy.

It’s just making sure that we can find that audience and I think just making sure that we’re continuing to network and I think one of the things that Cindy talks about when she first started is how important networking is. It doesn’t matter that we have our own plant, it doesn’t matter that we have DCs across the country. It doesn’t matter how many brokers we have right now. Networking, honestly, has been our biggest seller.

We’ve gotten some of our biggest accounts, through networking. Not from, and no offense to our brokers, but they came primarily through networks rather than our brokers and our distributors. And we’re able to close them, just through people we’ve met. A lot of times in the startup community, everybody wants to help each other. Which is we’ve found and it’s really new. Big CPG, is like, cutthroat is like, oh my gosh, we’re gonna put our foot on their throat.

You talk to other people in other categories. We sit at these shows, and they’re like, Hey, have you talked to this buyer? And you know, here’s a broker we really work well with, here’s this. It’s really a community that as you network more, you learn more. Whether it’s from brokers and, you know, sales support to investors and things like that.

CP [16:37]: That’s definitely the one thing I love most about the industry is that people want to help other people. You know, if you know where you play, then you can be accepting of others and support others and growing as well and there’s so much room for opportunity. You know, and all the small companies you know, we’re all fighting the good fight against the big companies and trying to do things right. So us banding together is so important and There’s so much of it in the industry right now.

MB [17:01]: Yeah, well, there’s one competitor, a Chicago based company here as well. And I’ve reached out to their founder just on, Hey, how are you structuring your organization? How have you done your recruiting to get young and hungry employees that want to do this kind of startup role? People have been so responsive and so helpful, and they’re like, Hey, here’s the range of everything from here’s how I’m set up. Here’s the range I’m paying people and been pretty open like that. It’s been pretty amazing.

JB [17:29]: That’s awesome. Now, it also sounds like while there’s some disadvantage of you guys being small, sounds like there’s some also some agility you guys have a being small, right?

CP [17:38]: We can make a decision like that.

JB [17:40]: Yeah, exactly. So that’s good. And I imagine too, being able to interact with your customers or potential customers directly. I’m interested to hear from you guys of like how are you guys from a food innovation you started in your kitchen? Giving to other people to taste it? How are you guys continuing to do that and innovate in the foods, space of taste, are you know, are you involving people in tests and usability tests and things like that? I’m interested to hear how that works from a food perspective.

CP [18:10]: Yeah, so the one important thing is we all demo our products. So we’re out in stores sampling ourselves. I think that is the number one way that you can hear consumer feedback about your products, but also about what they want. You can talk to them there. And you don’t, you know, take some people for a grain of salt. But when you hear people start saying the same things, that’s where kind of we look to, to innovate with other products and ideas and putting it into the pipeline.

MB [18:37]: I think one of the things we’ve got going for us too, is we have it’s still relatively small, relatively speaking, but we have a nice, you know, following of consumers buy us online, and we can test things that way so we can reach out to people directly, hey, you bought four times. You know, we’ve got a group of people that buy pretty regularly we can say, Hey, would you try something for us? Let us know what you think.

So we’ve got groups of people that advocate for us. And that we can kind of reach back to even people we know but also people who just buy us. There are folks that buy us on a regular basis, none of us have met, all across the country. It gives us, you know, an audience to try things. I think from an innovation standpoint, you’re asking about how quickly we can change?

One of the things we’re doing is we’re making in the process of making a change to our portfolio. What we found, as we were talking to retailers is Gorilly Goods has two different pack types. One’s trail mixes and one’s clusters. And they price different and they are in different parts of the stores. Supernola is all clusters and they price with the two groups you follow and they price for the two Gorilly goods clusters.

So what we found is the retailers like okay with these two, go with four other brand items, and they go in different store and they line price here and these other to go in a different part. So we’re actually you know, having gotten that feedback and it’s been, you know, getting not hammered but getting that feedback.

We’re actually taking all our clusters and putting everything under Supernola. So we’re converting crunchy, Gorilly Goods clusters items into the Supernola Crunch and Gorilly Goods will just be a trail mix seed and nut line, we’re very clear from a pricing perspective, very clear where it goes to stores. And now we’ve got a six SKU portfolio that’ll start rolling out in October, that will be really clear. And we were able to make that decision with feedback and we made that decision in 30 minutes or an hour. We kind of sat through it like, okay, here’s what we’re hearing. Here are the implications. Let’s make sure we’re thinking through the process. And we made that change.

We actually took it back to one of the national retailers we talked to, and they’re like, Oh, my gosh, that’s incredible. We made a small packaging change. And they’re like this incredible. And then they took all six of, actually they took five of the six items. So it’s been really helpful to take that feedback. And that would have taken me a year to do a big CPG company. Yeah, we did it. We made the decision. 45 days ago, we just finalized we’re finalizing the packaging this week and next week, and we’ll start producing in late September.

JB [21:01]: Oh, that’s awesome. It now and it also sounds like you’re obviously learning fast being able to adapt fast. So what would be some learnings that really the listeners as they’re listening to this, that you guys have learned doing it with Evolve Snacks that they can apply to their own business?

CP [21:21]: Always listen. That’s my one big thing is to sit back and listen and ask probing questions especially to consumers about, you know, what they want. You know on the surface is something but then what is it deeper below that what is it actually that they want? So, just listening to people and not. The one important thing I think it just in business in general is to not think that you know everything. And if somebody is an expert, you know, question that but then figure out why they are an expert and then trust them in that.

MB [21:50]: I think echoing that, just listening to our retailers too. I think, you know, having come from big CPG like we know everything about marketing and we know everything about sales and innovation. And I think, as we talked to our retailers, we’ve gotten really great feedback and different retailers are very, some can be a little more niche.

We’ve got a great retailer, that’s in the West suburbs of Chicago, and they’re small, one location, they do crazy amounts of our product. They’re always like, Hey, what about this? Having that feedback of how we do things. So we even share with them hey here’s our packaging change, just want to let you know, and they’re like, love it.

And I think we’ve shown big retailers that have 6000 to 8000 stores to one store. I think, you know, finding that, that that sweet spot of that feedback. Another thing is I just like to just walk stores.

Maybe it’s old fashioned I know there’s so much e-comm buying and I know we do well in e-comm and there’s that’s continuing to evolve. But I think there’s so much valuable insights you can learn on your business on tip of the spear innovation trends by just walking stores. And walking everything from Target to Whole Foods to Mom and Pop organic specialty grocery stores and seeing what’s moving off the shelf. Seeing where people are trending. And I think, you know, being a small company that we don’t have the money to do the research like I might have done in my past. So getting a lot of those directional and what you call mother in law research or things like that, just walking stores, talking to people watching.

I’m that geek that’s in the aisle watching people buy to see how they’re making those choices. I think that’s invaluable, especially as a startup. I think if you can get out there and see how consumers are shopping and also what items are starting to make a little hay out in the marketplace. It’s really invaluable.

CP [23:37]: Yeah, the psychology behind what drives people to buy what they buy and do what they do is the most fascinating part to me and I’m that person stalking somebody in the store and looking and saying.

JB [23:48]: I need to watch myself now.

CP [23:49]: You picked up this but then you picked up that why’d you pick up them both? You know, are you shopping for somebody else, is this for you? Why did you pick that over the other brand, things like that.

JB [24:00]: Yeah, that’s great. I mean, listen, and then pay attention. It looks like. So those are the two things that I mean, those are great observations and great points because a lot of people just don’t like you said, don’t listen, and they say they know better. So yeah, you can learn a lot, obviously, from looking at customers. That’s great. That’s great. I appreciate you both your time, and it’s been a great time to talk about plant-based innovation and a snack space. So I’m excited to see where Evolve Brands goes and thanks again.

How Marketing Process Drives Innovation | Ep. 33

Spencer Gordon is the Senior VP of Digital at Anheuser-Busch, he’s been with AB his entire career. He even launched Draftline to switch up their marketing process. Draftline is an in-house creative agency that is full service with over 77 people across 42 brands.

Josh and Spencer talk about the changing digital marketing process, where Draftline fits into that and how marketing is evolving to be more iterative, agile and nimble.

Innovation is new solutions to an ever-changing environment – 00:52
What is Draftline? What problem is it solving? – 01:15
What does the marketing process look like for brands like Budweiser & Michelob Ultra? – 05:30
Using data to better understand the customer – 11:25
Marketing Personalization and localization – 13:54
How to evolve your team to be more agile and iterative – 16:21
How the AB innovation process has changed – 17:57
Innovation Hotseat – Spencer answers some more personal questions – 20:53
The most fascinating thing in innovation right now – 27:28
Ask more questions and other key takeaways – 28:47


Josh Barker  [00:08]  Well, today I’ve got with me, Spencer Gordon. He’s a senior digital director at Anheuser Busch and Spencer if you wouldn’t mind telling a little bit about yourself.

Spencer Gordon  [00:21] Yeah, so my name is Spencer Gordon. I’m originally from the Greater Chicago area, went to school at Wash U in St. Louis. And from there I started working for Anheuser Busch. So, I’ve been at Anheuser Busch ever since I was in school. I kind of bounced around different roles after starting with the company and one of our rotational programs and have since progressed through the marketing department. And I now lead the digital team and our in house creative team, Draftline.

JB  [00:44]  Awesome. Well, we always start with this question. So Spencer, what is innovation to you?

SG  [00:52]  Innovation, to me, is basically how companies can come with new solutions that can appeal to an ever-changing environment? So for me, it’s basically taking something, reinventing it in a way that’s keeping up with consumer culture or pushing, basically consumer culture in a new direction.

JB  [01:11]  Sure, sure. And you’re doing that through Draftline, right?

SG  [01:15]  Yeah. So Draftline is basically our company’s reaction to a changing climate. Right? I think for the first time, what you’re seeing is companies are spending more and more in digital marketing. Consumers are spending more time in new mediums, a lot of those mediums people are paying not to view ads. And I think as a company, you know, we’re a traditional advertiser, right? I think in the past, we ran a lot of TV commercials, we ran a lot of traditional campaigns. And what we were seeing was that we did a lot of our own analytics and a lot of our own in house media buying. But, we were outsourcing all of our creative. I think that there are amazing creative agencies that exist in the world.

There were a lot of things that we thought that we could do quickly. We connected the media and the analytics better to our creative. So launching Draftline, what we were able to do is have a full 360-degree picture of the entire marketing process. That’s allowed us now to free up bandwidth for our existing agencies, allowing them to focus on more of their specialties. Do a little bit what of they’re better at. It’s helped us facilitate best practice sharing across all different partners. We’re able to provide insights and analytics and strategy, even to our existing agencies, as well as our own internal teams. We can really connect the dots to the marketing process.

We’re able to see something all the way from a concept to execution. Judging how things are working or if it’s not working. W can make and fine-tuning that creative, and push it out to then have a better final product. We’re totally changing the ways of working from our traditional ways to be much more nimble and always on.

JB  [02:47]  It seems like there are some pretty big advantages, especially when you’re internalizing anything, I mean, you just kind of let me know when we were initially talking that it seems like when you first come into Anheuser Busch they want to show you a lot of different areas of how the business works and have an internal digital creative agency really know the insides and outs so deeply of Anheuser Busch seems like a pretty strategic advantage.

SG  [03:16]  Yeah, I think for me, it’s less about how we’re dealing with all agencies, right. It’s more about how we’re upskilling our own internal people. The climate of marketing has changed in a big way. People are now spending more time on the phone, they’re spending more time on their computer. Our dollars from a production immediate standpoint are very much moving that way.

I think what you’re seeing in the industry is it’s such a new space for a lot of brands to get into. There hasn’t been that much understanding. So Draftline has been an amazing vehicle for us to help bring in new creative talent to the company. Bringing more tech-savvy and digital people to the company that can help train our existing workforce internally to populate with the existing marketing department and kind of upscale some of the technical things that we haven’t had just because it hasn’t been our bread and butter in the past.

I think alongside that what we’ve been able to do is really, since we are an internal team, it does help to know some of the intricacies of the companies and the ways of working that we can share with both our internal and external stakeholders. So we’re able to kind of connect the dots and say, You know what, this is working really well. This is what the brand needs. This is what isn’t working well. How do we go and kind of apply those best practices to an area that needs development and really help everyone move that that better direction overall?

JB [04:34]  Now, help me understand a little bit so Draftline is that a separate department is a separate like corporate entity that’s wholly owned by Anheuser Busch, like how from a structure standpoint, like what is Draftline?

SG  [04:46]  Yes. So Draftline, it’s an internal agency. So basically it reports into the marketing function. It’s part of the company. It’s part of the overall connections group within our marketing team. So I myself lead the Draftline team as well as the Anheuser Busch digital team. My boss oversees sponsorship digital, which includes Draftline Media and experiential marketing.

JB  [05:08]  Gotcha. Okay. And how long has Draftline been around for? 

SG  [05:13]  We launched in May of 2018. So a little bit over a year.

JB  [05:17]  Okay. And how many people are in Draftline right now?

SG  [05:22]  We have 62 [at publication, 77] people that work within the Draftline team.

JB  [05:25]  Oh, nice. Awesome. that’s grown quite a bit. That’s a lot of stuff.

SG  [05:30]  It has, it’s growing very quickly. I think, you know, the world has changed fast. Once you know, we kind of evaluated there was a need, we were kind of testing and iterating. Figuring out that it doesn’t make sense for us to bring in creative talents to the company. We piloted one brand and that brand was Michelob Ultra last summer. I think we were able to quickly learn that we can do creative well if you’re connecting it to strategy, insights, analytics and digital media. We can make things that were performing well and do it fast because we know the business pretty well. We’re all sitting in the same building. So there’s like this communication. That’s a lot of very easy communication that’s happening between us and the brand team. After showing some initial success on one brand, we could build a case and replicate across the entire portfolio. So today, our 62 person team is operating across all the different brands within Anheuser-Busch in the US. We’re operating each one in a slightly different way.

JB  [06:26]  Yeah, there’s a lot I mean, 42, you said 42 brands.

SG  [06:30]  There are 42 different brands in the Anheuser-Busch portfolio, but they’re grouped under then some parent brands, right? So there’s Bud Light but then within Bud Light, there’s Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Orange, Bud Light Platinum. Within Michelob Ultra: there’s Michelob Ultra, there’s Global Ultra Pure Gold, Michelob Ultra Amber. Three different products that sit within that. But in total, the creative work that we’re doing is around 42 brands.

JB  [06:52]  That’s a lot of work and no wonder there are quite a few people in Draftline right now. Especially when I mean I think you had mentioned scaling to more personalized and localized marketin, right? So that’s a lot. Can you give some examples of how you guys are doing that with different brands of personalizing, like locally?

SG  [07:11]  Yeah, absolutely. So I think I mean, in the past, marketers had to send one message out to many people, right? When you do a traditional TV broadcast, you might have a message that’s going one to 10 million people, right? You own one spot, it might be 30 seconds or 15 seconds. You’re running the same thing over and over and all different channels.

I think with the power of digital marketing, what you’re seeing is a fragmentation of consumer’s time and attention. There are more and more platforms and places where consumers are really spending their time and consuming different media channels.

The way that our brand shows up, it used to be a one to many message. Now we’re able to take that message and make it more personal and make it more local. So I’ll give an example with something like Bud Lights NFL campaign. In the past, we would run NFL TV creative towards the general audience during NFL broadcast games. Now what we’re doing is we’re cutting that content. We’re making it where it’s featuring each of the local teams that we sponsor in each market.

Depending on the type of fan you are, you’re going to see different content that is more likely to resonate with you. More likely to resonate with the fan group that we have. Therefore, we’re able to translate one key message and make it more personal. So that’s just one example of what we do in a larger brand. But we’re really doing that channel by channel, app by app, platform by platform. The specs that you see on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and YouTube and Snapchat are going to be slightly different.

With the different targeting that we’re able to do, we can appeal to all different demographics and locations. And really, that has allowed us to take messaging huge brands, and make them relevant at the local level. Make them relevant to the individual consumer. This helps us move the needle because, at the end of the day, people want brands that mean something to them. Sometimes it takes a bit more explanation or a slightly different message.

JB  [09:04]  Can you give a tangible example of a specific brand you have and how that appeals differently across the board?

SG  [09:12]  Sure I think like we’ll look at a traditional brand like Budweiser. I think historically, people think of Budweiser as being in All-American, domestic beer. Something that’s one for many people, and that’s definitely the core heritage of the brand. But when you look at Budweiser, Budweiser itself has a few different audiences that we have to appeal to. We have, you know, an older demographic that’s used to drinking Budweiser. They think of traditional American heritage. You think of farming, you think of baseball, you think of burgers. All those things are amazing for the brand, the bread, and butter of why the brand exists.

At the same time, you know, Millennials have a different value system. There are different things that they might think of or be passionate about, that we’re able to appeal to. So for example, an older consumer of Budweiser is very, very interested in the MLB and in baseball. Whereas a young consumer might be a lot more interested in the NBA and basketball. And I think for us by taking the same brand, we’re actually able to have different messaging, what we would do with a baseball audience and what we’re able to do with an NBA audience.

If we were to double click into that, you would say, hey, in the NBA, there are different types of markets that exist, right? You might have a market in LA that is a lot more Hispanic, much more bicultural, in terms of the language preference, in terms of the background of people, how they think, how they act, what they wear, etc, versus, you know, something that you might see in Oklahoma City, right? Which might be a bit more Caucasian, slightly older.

What we’re able to do with the brand and say, Hey, we can take a key message that we have overall and make it relevant to that individual person in a city that they have, make it relevant to the demographic that we’re appealing to, whether it’s the MLB or the NBA. And all of a sudden you take a brand that’s known for America, America, and American heritage, and we’re able to make it more relevant still building on the corporate Brand DNA, but to a consumer that we’re trying to win over as a group.

JB  [11:04]  That makes a lot of sense. Yeah. And there must be, I mean, my mind goes to there must be a tremendous amount of data as well you guys deal with data intelligence and big data for even sifting through understanding how to localize certain commercials and certain apps. Is that right?

SG  [11:25]  I think the most important thing that all marketing departments in all companies need to have in today’s day and age is a direct relationship with their customer. Right? And that, to me is the difference between companies that are winning and losing today. And so for us, the way that we think about that is really through data, right? Data, meaning people, meaning knowing more about the audience that we’re trying to appeal to, and really putting people first at the core of our business. So what we’re looking through is all the different metrics that we have across the board, who people are, where they’re from, what they’re interested in, what kind of motivates them?

From there, we’re able to then try and translate that down to creative that we’re able to use to appeal to those people. I think for me, that’s been the number-one success of Draftline overall, is that we’re basically looking at saying, “Okay, what are ways that we are segmenting groups and different audiences, customizing the message, using the right brand to develop creative ideas, and then scaling that cross the portfolio?” And to me, that’s, that’s the one thing that we can do internally, that we probably can’t do externally is have that direct relationship with the customers.

What we can do and what we often do is share that with our existing agencies because we always want to know who our customer is, it’s not something that we’d ever want to outsource. But we can give that to our best partners. And they’re able to take that and translate that into action and different creative messaging for different channels or different brands.

For me, that has been the number one initiative that I think we’ve really been focusing on the last couple years is saying, how do we have a more direct relationship? How do we understand more about our consumers so that we can tailor our product, tailor our messaging to win them over, over time? And I think the biggest thing for us is we’re not starving for data. What we’re doing is we’re starving for insights, how do we look at big data and then translate that down to tangible examples or tangible things that we’re able to act on quickly?

JB  [13:17]  Yeah. Oh, yeah. There’s, I mean, everyone I’ve talked to they’re data-heavy, but information poor. And that’s what you’re talking about, how can we take the data, the massive amount of data but have insights from it to say, “Hmm, these are the things that people want without them actually telling us” based on these trends?

SG [13:35]  Exactly. Yeah.

JB  [13:37]  Yeah. Very interesting. So where, you know,  are you guys doing rapid testing with your broad audiences as well with different ad sets and different projects where you’re just testing out different markets as well to get some of that data to better understand?

SG  [13:54]  Absolutely. So in the past, you know, you would run one piece of creative and you would kind of set it and forget it. And you would see what happened just because again, that’s very much TV, that’s very much radio, you make a few different assets. Now what we’re doing is everything we’re doing is testing and iterating, right? You launch a bunch of different things you’re seeing, okay, here’s all the different segments, you’ve created your different messages, it’s kind of like a stock portfolio, you’re seeing, hey, this one’s delivering X amount of return. This one’s getting better clicks, better shares, or view through and this one’s not so we’re pausing investment, and moving investment to the higher-performing content.

We’re also looking at the creative, making iterations, fine-tuning the edits. Over time, what we’re able to do is take a wide basket of messages and ads that we’re running, narrow them based on what’s working, what’s not working, promote the ones that are working better. Then the ones that aren’t performing better we go back and fix and find out what’s driving the bad performance, how do we improve it, and over time, we’re building on those best practices and we’ve been able to watch all of our digital metrics kind of tick up over time because it’s something that we’re constantly learning and constantly evolving.

Basically what we’re doing is we’re sharing those best practices across the portfolio saying, Hey, we target X consumer, this is what’s working really well if you target Y consumer, you should consider doing this. And I think just by willing the willingness to test and learn and to iterate, we’ve been able to much more specifically hone in on things that work well.

JB  [15:21]  Oh, I’d imagine. I mean, you’re basically speaking customer development process and lean startup. So I mean, you guys are sounds like are moving very, very rapidly.

SG  [15:31]:  I think that’s been a big adjustment on the team and saying, hey, how do we shift the mindset of a traditional marketer and make it much more nimble, make it much more agile, be willing to test and learn and iterate what you’re doing. And rather than having a TV commercial, that goes to digital, taking digital content, that you’re able to dark post and test with different audiences and then scale it to TV. So really using this as the tip of the spear for how we develop content and how we kind of shift the marketing mentality into the future.

JB  [15:59]  That’s awesome. So in Draftline, do you guys have that culture to where is that part of like training where your customer discovery, customer development or lean startup? Or is that something you look for, as you hire people to add in your staff that they already have that knowledge of, hey, we’re, here’s how we’re doing things rapidly, experimenting. Moving quick?

SG  [16:21]  I think it’s definitely a combination of two, I think, as a company, we have been looking to bring in more talent that understand data, that understand digital mediums, that understand creative, which is why Draftline was born, right, because I think it’s something that we’ve needed, and that’s going to help us kind of be the change agent for the future of marketing. And I think at the same time, then as we’ve built-in specialists, we’ve also been changing our processes.

Over the last year, we’ve been kind of testing and learning with creative. Testing and learning with our org chart. And testing and learning with the ways that we work. Testing and learning with how we approach each day. We’ve moved our tools into a much more agile methodology. We have daily stand-ups, we’re talking about “Hey, What are the key priorities for the day?” How is this going to move the needle? What things can fall off our plate? What needs to be prioritized? And over time, we’ve really shifted to now that we have the right skillset and the right people in place really shifted to this more agile methodology, right, that we’re trying to put the consumer first, we’re always trying to test and iterate and refine what we’re doing.

JB  [17:21]  It seems like a shift from, you know, I worked at a large company, and it seems like a lot of large companies are very risk-averse. It seems like embracing risk or making the risks smaller, but and then faster, small ones, right? Like, hey, here’s what we’re going to treat these as experiments. And we’re going to run all these tests and we’re going to test all these things, get enough data, then once we get positive data on one of them, let’s put more money and resources into you know, betting on one that has higher return we saw on a smaller scale.

SG  [17:57]  That’s exactly correct. And I think that’s been the big shift the company in the past, even with our innovation process, which is run out of what we call our Apollo 11 team. We used to have a process where we would bet big behind one or two things throughout the year, and it’d be a big bet. And there was a good chance of success, but also a good chance of failure.

Now we’re moving towards [it’s much more like almost like a little venture capital fund] where we basically have a lot smaller brands, hyper-localized, that we’re learning at a zip code level. We’re scaling to a state level, we’re then bringing nationally and kind of a much more process-driven test and learn and iterate type methodology. And what we’ve been able to see and I think, to the point that you’re making is, we’re taking strategic bets, right? We’re not taking high profile, high risk, high return type mentality.

We’re taking small bets that we can place, see if we can have some success, and then scale very quickly to what can become a very big and strategic bet for the company. And I think what we’re seeing in our innovation process is very much how we’re iterating the rest of our marketing team as well, where we’re looking, you know, to shift the way that we approach digital content in digital media.

My team is a direct reflection of what the broader company is doing, which is basically saying, hey, the landscape is changing quickly, we need to change our ways of working to keep up the culture to lead the future growth of what’s happening in the alcohol vertical. And then from there change the products that we’re offering to make sure that they’re resonating with consumers, kill the things that don’t make sense, scale the things that are working well, that we could bring nationally, and then, therefore, you know, grow our top line overall company,

JB  [19:34]  By the way, Apollo 11 is a pretty sweet innovation group name.

SG  [19:38]  Yeah, I love that as well, too. It’s definitely something that builds on, you know, some heritage and nostalgia, but I think is very clear in the vision, which is like, hey, if you take someone you give them a task, and you give them the right tools and training, there’s no doubt in their mind that they can take things to the next level and really, you know, and not to be cliche, but take it out of this world.

JB  [19:58]  Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. Awesome. And sounds like you had you guys at Draftline are doing some really amazing things.

SG  [20:06]  Yeah, I think for me, it’s not just Draftline. I think Anheuser Busch, in general, is really trying to change the trajectory of what we’re doing. And I think we’ve been very strategic. And it’s taken something all the way from the top-down of this new mentality of, hey, we’re going to lead the future growth of the category. So what do we need to do? What walls do we need to break down? What processes do we need to change to help us get there? And to me, Draftline has been one of the agents that have helped us do that, right? Because we now have the tools in the marketplace via digital that can help you test and learn quickly that can help you get closer to your consumer, that can help you personalize your message that can really change the game for a very large company. They can take a large company and make it feel local and make it feel small. And to me that’s been the success of my team is that we’re able to kind of connect the dots and really help the company to that end goal.

JB  [20:53]  Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, we’re going to take a quick break and we’re going to go into a segment called Innovation Hot Seat. So this is new. And I’d love to basically we’re going to ask you four to six questions rapid-fire, and hoping you can give me some answers to them. They’re not that hard. 

SG  [21:13]  Okay. All right. Sounds great.

JB  [21:14]  These are a little bit more on a personal level. So what podcast do you subscribe to?

SG  [21:19]  How I Built This with Guy Raz

JB  [21:20]  Oh, that’s a good one. Yes.

SG  [21:24]  I listen to a lot of podcasts. I try and totally change the ways of thinking for me everything from business to religion to political news to innovation. I like them all and every single day is a different show.

JB  [21:37]  Oh, yeah. What was the favorite episode out of that?

SG  [21:41]  Of how I built this? 

JB  [21:42]  Yeah, how I built this?

SG  [21:44]  Um, my favorite one was I honestly, I love the episode about Spanx with Sara Blakely. It is a fascinating category I didn’t know much about, an entrepreneur I didn’t know much about. Very cool to see that, you know, a great idea can go fast quickly if you have the right insight. And I think that’s what she really honed in on saying, hey, like, you know, she knew the consumer better than anyone else. So simple product innovation is a multi-billion dollar brand today.

JB  [22:13]  Hmm, that’s awesome. All right, one person, you would invite to dinner.

SG  [22:17]  I’d really like to invite Jeff Bezos to dinner. I think he’d be a really interesting guy to talk to just amazing innovations and such a vision for the business and the way he’s been changing the landscape would love to pick his brain about his future plans.

JB [22:30]  Oh, yeah. He’s, he’s, Amazon has their fingers in everything right now. And it’s really fascinating to see.

SG  [22:38]  Yeah, I think I think for me, you know, it’s such a powerful brand. And they offer so many different services and brands and different things and but what I’ve been most impressed with is their ability to, again, think about what does the consumer want and how they’re able to deliver it across all different platforms and vehicles. Just really interesting to have the foresight that he started with books but he just built out the whole distribution strategy and the infrastructure that can now handle all these different verticals. And he’s disrupting every single industry kind of one by one. To me, a very inspirational guy.

JB  [23:10]  Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s interesting at, you know, City Innovation Labs, that is one of the number one conversations we have across all of the industries we work in is talking about Amazon, how it’s disrupting their market. Very, very interesting. So, all right, one thing you’d bring with you on a desert island, and it can’t be a person.

SG  [23:33]  Could it be a satellite phone?

JB  [23:37]  A satellite phone, hey, we’ll roll with that 

SG  [23:40]  Something to get me off that island. 

JB  [23:45]  Oh, man, are you an introvert or are you extrovert like do you get recharged being alone or with people? 

SG  [23:51]   Very much an extrovert 

JB  [23:54]   Okay, so then that phone is completely necessary. You’d go insane.

SG  [23:58]  Exactly. Yeah.

JB  [23:59]  Yeah. Make sense. All right. What about the last book you read?

SG  [24:03]  The last book I read was A Gentleman in Moscow [by Amor Towles]

JB  [24:06]  Okay, I haven’t read that one

SG [24:09]  Yeah it’s great it’s about this guy who’s, he’s basically in house arrest in a hotel in Moscow right around the start of the Russian Revolution so very, very interesting fiction book. But definitely one I really liked reading. 

JB  [24:23]  Okay, now are you a fiction reader nonfiction or combination?

SG  [24:27]  To be honest you mostly nonfiction so that was a one-off, definitely why it stuck out in my mind.

JB  [24:32]  Yeah, that what I was wondering I was like, man, I’m more of a nonfiction reader, like, you know, innovation, leadership, startup, you know, that sort of thing that and then my wife is the very, very much the fiction fan. So it’s good to have a mix though. 

SG  [24:47]  I typically like to read nonfiction and more historical fiction. I’m so sorry, sorry, more historical nonfiction. So things that have happened in the past that you can learn from. For me, the few ones that I feel that I’ve liked the most typically are within, you know, world history or, you know, like I just read Alexander Hamilton the book that inspired the play. I read a lot about Bad Blood, the story about their Theranos and like the whole company, just different things that have happened that you can then take lessons and learn from.

JB  [25:20]  Yeah, those are solid. Those are solid. I like those two. All right, a favorite place you’ve traveled and why?

SG  [25:27]  I would say Australia. To me, just such a beautiful country, so many nice, fun people, lots of different activities that you can go and do. And, you know, on the other side of the world, so something that is, you know, just very foreign and very distant from what I experience day-to-day.

JB  [25:45]  Nice. Nice. All right, the first thing you do in the morning,

SG  [25:50]  The first thing I do in the morning is I check my email, probably not very healthy and then I can get into my morning routine.

JB  [25:58]  Do and then a follow-up question is, do you do it from bed on your phone?

SG  [26:04]  Absolutely. I grab my phone and I start scrolling through my email.

JB  [26:12]  And the last one, so what do you do to unwind?

SG  [26:16]  I love to go to the movies and kind of just zone out and watch a movie and I also love to go outdoors and, and play golf. Those things to me are the most relaxing things that I would choose to do.

JB  [26:28]  Nice. Nice. And what about the movies? What’s the favorite movie? So like, so far this year?

SG  [26:35]  So far this year? 

JB  [26:38]  Or of all time, if that’s easier?

SG  [26:40]  Yeah, my, my favorite movie of all time. I’m thinking, there are so many good ones. I would have to say it’s probably Saving Private Ryan. I love that movie.

JB  [26:49]  That’s a good one. It’s a classic. I mean, how many years ago was that?

SG  [26:51]  Yeah, I don’t know. 15 maybe 10 or 15 years ago, but a great movie, something that always makes you appreciate you know, the country in those who have sacrificed for it.

JB  [27:02]  Oh, yeah, for sure. Cool. Well, that’s the whole interview. So that’s you’re out of the hot seat now. So I just thought, we like to throw in a little bit of a mix of a fun questionnaire and to get to know you a little bit better. And then I guess one last one. So innovation, what is the most interesting thing in the facet of innovation for you? What’s the most fascinating thing right now?

SG  [27:28]  I think the most fascinating thing is just how quickly the world is changing, I think, to me, consumers and technology are moving so fast, right? The everyday norms that happened, you know, 10, 15, 30, 50 years ago had completely been overhauled. I think to me, what you’re seeing are companies that are willing to change the ways of working, that are willing to get closer to consumers, have not got stuck in the past and be complacent are the ones that are most successful. Innovation isn’t just something that is, you know, it’s not a phase, it’s not a fad.

It’s something that’s here to say because the only thing that you can do to stay relevant in the changing environment. And so to me, I feel like it’s the vehicle to survive, you know, for a company survive for individuals to survive, in an ever-changing and more complex world.

JB  [28:19]  That’s good. Yeah, I totally agree. And I said, I know I said, that was the last thing. So one key takeaway or learning you would bestow upon someone else through your experience, your life experience, what would you say that would be in terms of innovation or in terms of building something new, or what we’ve talked about what learning would you say that would be?

SG  [28:47]  So for me, the biggest learning that I have is just learning how to ask the right questions. Right? I think that the experience I have even started Sraftline the first digital agency that we’ve had internally at Anheuser Busch has been, I know that I am not the biggest expert on any specific topic compared to all the people that exist in the world. There are so many people that are so talented and have such great skill sets. But for me, I think the one reason I, you know, we’ve been able to be successful and I’ve been able to be successful is because I’ve just been able to ask 1000 questions, and then take the information and things that I’ve learned from other people and apply it and simplify it to a specific, you know, pass or project. And so for me, I think if I got thrown in anywhere, I feel comfortable that I could just kind of ask questions and try and get my way out of it.

The willingness to kind of just be humble, to trust other people that are around you to make sure that you do your due diligence and ask the things that will help you clarify and make something simple and tangible to understand would be the best advice I can give anyone.

JB  [29:51]  That’s some solid advice and finding out the right question to ask oftentimes goes down, you got to find the core why of things, so It’s it’s good. Asking the right questions is super important. Totally agree with that. Awesome. Well, thanks for your time, Spencer. 

SG  [30:12]  Yeah I’m hoping this was helpful, you never know how things are gonna turn out but I always hope I was able to hit on some of the points that you guys are looking for and I appreciate guys having me on.

JB  [30:20]  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, you certainly did. It was a great Ask An Innovator, so I really appreciate your time. 

Transcript edited for clarity.
All ideas and opinions are Spencer’s own and do not necessarily express the views or opinions of his employer.