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Innovation Labs and Why You Might Want One

August 31, 2017 | B2B, B2C, Brand Environment, Experiential Marketing, Interactives, Retail

As event technology continues to advance at lightning speed, brands are more eager than ever to produce groundbreaking experiences that eclipse the competition and leave their attendees in awe. As a result, many brands—and agencies—are building innovation labs, where a mix of creativity, tech and sheer audacity is combined to develop new products and new strategies for delivering powerful live experiences. Of course, there are no set rules when it comes to establishing these workshops, and each organization has it’s own approach. Following is a look at some of the best and brightest in the industry.

Sephora leverages its San Francisco-based innovation lab to generate ideas and products that improve the in-store shopping experience. Like the Beauty Workshop stations found at its newer locations, which allow up to 12 shoppers at a time to take a makeup class taught by Sephora beauty experts, and are supplemented by video tutorials. Or the brand’s on-site Beauty Boards, which let customers peruse user-generated content then find the products used in the images right inside the store. (They can also filter the photos to determine the best products for their individual skin type and color.) To boot, new Digital Trend Tables derived from the innovation lab showcase the store’s best-selling and highest-reviewed products in real time.

At Ikea’s Space10 innovation lab in Copenhagen, a different approach is taken. Rather than devising solutions to today’s home design problems, the lab is aimed at investigating the future of urban living and how to offer design solutions that may not be relevant for years, even decades. Prototypes developed in the lab, like kitchen tables that convert surface heat into electricity, for instance, won’t be in stock any time soon, but they help ensure Ikea is on the path to successful innovation down the line.

And while most companies turn their innovation labs into permanent spaces, some brands are turning that concept on its head by building mobile experiences instead. Marriott at this year’s Americas Lodging and Investment Summit presented a 3,000-square-foot pop-up hotel innovation lab aimed at yielding real-time feedback on two of its newest hotel properties—Aloft and Element. For Element, lab features included a quarter-scale model of what the property’s communal rooms look like, and a projection mapping engagement that illustrated how different user groups would potentially use the space. Attendees could also try out Element’s self-service wine tap, which was accessed by an app or keycard when they “checked in.” With valuable feedback being generated in real time, the brand has plans to take the experience to events all over the world.

Even Absolut—yes, the vodka brand—is hopping on the bandwagon with its Absolut Labs workshop, which the brand is using to explore the future of the nightlife scene and to gain insight on how it can adapt to forthcoming consumer shifts in the marketplace. The lab’s initial efforts have been geared toward understanding technology’s impact on the nightlife experience and how to leverage that information to better connect with its customers through live experiences.

Innovation labs come in all shapes and sizes, and their purpose varies depending on company objectives. But what brands do have in common when it comes to these think tanks is a willingness to push boundaries in an effort to produce true innovation—not the next passing fad. So if you’re considering developing an innovation lab for your organization, begin with an airtight strategy and get ready to take risks. Fortune favors the brave, after all.

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The ultimate traveler. Tech & gaming fanatic. Biz dev enthusiast. My goal is to assist clients in deploying programs that drive brand performance.

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