Fast Company Innovation Fest 2019

Fast Company Innovation Fest 2019

Fast Company Innovation Fest 2019 1440 428 Chute Gerdeman

It was my first year attending the media giant’s Manhattan-hopping conference. Held last week (November 4-9) all around NYC, the conference was filled with insights, behind the scenes looks into operations, retail tours, and thoughts from leaders. Hollywood stars showed up like Elizabeth Banks and, my favorite, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yes, Kanye was there too.

The festival’s general session schedule was located at the Caldwell Factory in Chelsea—serving as the central spot of the event. General sessions were open to all attendees, and being held in a dedicated space, I was able to jump into sessions freely. But I found the most value in the Fast Tracks; held in offices and retail spots all over the city, they gave a peek into how teams work. Topics ranged from innovation (obviously) to new store openings to data driven content. It was a jam-packed week and here were a few highlights I found to be most beneficial.

Hello Service

How do you make retail special in the world of online shopping? Service like a pro. Brands like Nieman Marcus are dialing up the service model. Providing their expertise to customers and extending the conversation online and in the palm of their hand.

Traditionally, department stores live and die by their product and how they sell more of it. Nieman Marcus is looking to focus on the customer and discussed their Digital Stylist offer and developing experiential spaces. Now, this is nothing new, but their Digital Stylist program and its evolution from 2 initial stylists to 55 in just a year shows that the trend isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Users of the Digital Stylist program were already in their shopper database. When Nieman upped the level of service, shoppers were willing to spend more of their wallet. These shoppers were going elsewhere and when Neiman created a new shopping channel through the Digital Stylist, Neiman was now their go-to source. The new Neiman Marcus at Hudson Yards features a Digital Stylist studio that allows members to schedule appointments with their preferred stylist for wardrobe updates, special occasions, and all their fashion needs.

Brand Activism

The entire festival had a layer of Activism and Ethical Consumerism. As humans, what are we doing to save the planet, fight injustice, and give voice to those held back by society? A growing number of brands are stepping into the discussion, putting their stance out there, and getting involved. It’s driven by waves of consumers seeking to know more about the values behind the brands they buy. Others like Orange Theory, who said, “like to stay in our lane” have understandably decided not to throw their activism hat in the ring.

No longer under that the L’Oreal banner, The Body Shop started getting back to their roots and the beliefs of their original founder, Anita Roddick. Roddick was a human rights champion, environmental activist, and started the brand to make money while her husband was away in South America—apparently riding a horse. Over the last 2 years, The Body Shop has worked to put activism back into the core of its brand purpose. Focusing their core values around animal rights, female empowerment, and sustainability. Showing that they are not just about writing checks, though that happens too, some examples include collecting 8 Million signatures to end animal testing in the cosmetics industry forever as well as launching active campaigns with Planned Parenthood.

A trip to The Body Shop was not only informative, but a refreshing stop. I’d been sitting in folding chairs in dark rooms most of the day, and this space was bright and cheerful with cushioned seating. And for that, I thank you.

Data is Everything (Except Human)

Data is the big elephant in the room, right? We often see that brands have more data than they do actual plans to utilize. And many even try to make their data fit a hypothesis rather than first working to understand what it’s telling them. Translating Data is critical. But the key? Pairing data and insights with human behavior. Sparks & Honey, helps companies (and brands) to quantify culture. That’s right—helping predict consumer behavior by understanding current trends and tracking interests and patterns through their AI powered cultural intelligence platform, Q. I’ll be tuning into their weekly culture briefings moving forward.

The Fast Company Innovation festival did not disappoint, at least for me. I did hear many grumblings from attendees, in person and in the activity feed of the app, that the organizers lacked some, well, organization. But overall, I was able to take in new perspectives and insights from leaders, as well as new retail and hospitality along the way. Stay tuned for more from the event in the coming weeks.

And here’s a picture of Lin-Manuel for good measure.

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