Technology is the driving force behind this need for innovation. We’re in the midst of a digital transformation and to keep up organisations need to make changes in how they work, and how they deliver an engaging and exciting customer experience.

The speakers at the recent Marketing Association Brainy Breakfast were acutely aware of this, driving initiatives that not only transformed their organisational m.o. but kept the customer experience at the heart of their initiatives.

Moving with the times

A striking realisation for both NZME and Z Energy was that technological advancement is not only changing how their business works, but how their customers consume their products. They’re faced with the challenge of how they can continue to stay relevant in a fast-changing world where their core product has the potential to become obsolete.

NZME changed their whole business structure, merging together three separate businesses, to accommodate for the change in how customers consume media, which has rapidly changed from paper-based to almost exclusively online. They also continue to develop new media products – such as Yudu, Driven and OneRoof – which they can leverage back into the business to add value to their readers.

Z Energy meanwhile is acutely aware that with the increase of electric vehicles in the market they will sell less fuel in the coming years. They’re thinking about how they can create innovative solutions for selling fuel now, to build loyal customers in the future, and continue to be at the forefront of solving the customer problem around energy and transportation.

Innovation in the fast lane

Driving these kinds of innovations requires a lot of internal organisational change; fostering a more agile way of working with a fail-fast attitude that encourages new ideas to be brought to the table. This can either be company-wide or within a special innovation ‘hub’ that acts as a catalyst for a new mindset in the organisation.

From concept to implementation, Z Energy’s Fast Lane took just 13 weeks – but it’s a product that will continue to evolve as they understand more about their customer needs. Experimentation, taking feedback and realising that the ‘solution’ you’ve developed isn’t the final product is key. For Z Energy ‘Fast Lane’ isn’t about Fast Lane, it’s about the journey to frictionless payment and solving the customer problem.

It’s also important to remember that not everything will and can be a raging success and to accept this as part of the creative process. Experimenting and accepting a failure is crucial – especially in the ‘real world’ where customers can give direct feedback on whether your new products or services are useful or necessary. You’ll soon realise if it works, or what improvements you can make that will help you grow in the future.

The novelty factor

Of course, innovation doesn’t necessarily mean always having to use the latest technology or create something new. Sometimes all it takes is a slightly different approach in how you use traditional media and technology.

WREDA (the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency) tapped into this with the ‘LookSee’ campaign designed to attract international tech talent to Wellington. With the hook of a free trip to Wellington, complete with interviews and an introduction to the city (as well as a potential job at the end of it) they smashed their target of 5,000 applicants almost tenfold.

They used video and pitching articles to international press to drive interest in their campaign that positioned Wellington as a great place to live and work. What made it unique however was that innovative and creative hook – it’s not every day that you get the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world for free.

Innovation can be as much about attracting new customers as it is about building loyalty amongst those who already exist. Z Energy’s frictionless fast lane to fuel has enough of a novelty factor that customers who may not necessarily already purchase their fuel there, would give it a go.

Data and automation

An underlying factor to the success of all these initiatives was the use of data to understand the customer, and automation to streamline the process. NZME even went so far as to deploy 18 robots to automate repetitive tasks, freeing up staff to do other things.

Data was crucial for NZME to understand how customers were using their products, as well as understand what content was most relevant to them. Through data, they discovered that 30% of Aucklanders weren’t born in New Zealand and the content they created needed to reflect this diversity.

They also used data to understand engagement and the trends that resonated with their customers, such as personalisation or use of video – and the fact that 80% of their readers were on mobile, driving them to build mobile-first.

And it’s the automation of a traditionally very manual process that makes the Z Energy Fast Lane really stand out. It’s a seamless experience - from initial set up to driving away from the gas station, the technology automatically brings together various points of data so you don’t even have to get out of your car.

Brainy Breakfast Poll

When we asked attendees of the Brainy Breakfast what innovation they were focusing on in their organisation, the majority indicated that it was data and automation that was their main focus – in particular, data analytics and marketing automation.

Many New Zealand organisations often don’t have large enough teams to have technology experts or struggle to employ the right talent from a small pool of people, as exemplified by the need of the LookSee campaign. Building your data and automation foundation sets your organisation up to innovate more and build a more relevant and engaging customer experience.

Our follow up questions revealed that the New Zealand organisations attendees thought were most innovative are literally shooting for the stars (Rocket Lab), using technology that improves and adds value to the customer experience (Air NZ), or playing on a global stage (Soul Machine and Weta). But it’s also the little things that were admired – like Whittaker’s innovation in chocolate flavours and unique videos on social media, or Eco Store’s ability to stick to their values while finding new ways they can continue to resonate with their target audience.

However you innovate – whether this is an organisational change, or just how you market your products, understanding the customers’ needs and how you can solve it is key to staying relevant and driving engagement.