Key takeaways from the Unbound innovation festival

Jul 26, 2019

Last week GDR’s Harriet Cox and Dave Dalrymple-Pryde visited the two-day Unbound innovation festival at London’s Old Truman Brewery. Here are their key takeaways. 

Unbound bills itself as the “UK’s largest and most exciting innovation festival”. Earlier this month it returned to the Old Truman Brewery in East London for the third straight year, bringing together more than 5,000 founders, entrepreneurs, investors, corporate and brand executives, and disruptive start-ups for two days of talks and panel discussions about retail and brand innovation.

GDR attended both days and these are the talks and exhibitions that really stood out to us.


Empowering Digital Transformation

This panel discussion featuring speakers from finance app Revolut, media giant Viacom and creative agency Ogilvy was a lively discussion and debate seeking to unpick the digitalisation of business processes, assets and products.

The panel agreed that rarely had they seen an example of digital transformation being carried out successfully and put this down to the siloed way in which a lot of businesses choose to navigate the process. It was argued that in order to achieve a successful transition, companies should be empowering every part of their business and introducing diversity at every level. Namrata Sarmah, Senior Director, Digital Product Management at Viacom suggested that diversity of age at board level could be useful in order to bring older generations along the transformation journey.

Panellists discussed the idea that, rather than creating a department or innovation arm of the business that operates independently of daily processes, companies should create a culture of change and innovation across the whole business. This, however, was an argument that was later challenged when panellists discussed the benefits of internal ‘innovation labs’ to drive product development, agreeing that they can be a useful way to bring about positive change. The panel felt that these innovation platforms also provided access to the start-up network, enabling them to find the best skills for the job. (If you’re interested in this debate, I can also recommend this recent piece on Modern Retail: The case for and against the retail innovation lab)

Ultimately all the panellists felt that the negative press around digital transformation – such as redundancies and company restructuring – should be challenged. Instead, it was felt that the key to delivering positive change is to use it as an opportunity to upskill employees as a skilled workforce.

To conclude, the panel agreed that companies should look to bring everyone along for the journey. Employees will want to be a part of the success story, so companies should lead by example.


Turning your customers into fans 

Another panel made up of delegates from finance, CRM and retail discussed the benefits and techniques of customer-centric marketing models with chair, Lisa Targett, UK General Manager of influencer marketing agency Tribe. The panel asked: Are brands missing a trick not using their customer base as advocates?”

Panellist Melissa Weston, Marketing Lead UK & IE for online fashion retailer Zalando, spoke about the brand’s core principles of building trust, knowing its audience and inspiring them. Weston cited key strategies such as using AI and customer data to create personalised homepages and creating surprise and delight through an engaging unboxing. Weston also acknowledged that consumers expect brands to be passionate about the same causes as them, which has an impact on the types of influencers they work with, picking those that resonate with their target audience.

Mike Jordan, CEO of customer loyalty app Bink offered a different perspective, that creating frictionless experiences is what helps them build their brand fanbase. Jordan argued that customers are now used to low friction experiences and that, due to advances in fintech and mobile payments, their expectations have been set. Acting as a middleman between payment and the shopping experience, Bink is an app that consolidates brand loyalty programmes in one place. Its aim is to remove barriers so that customers can take better advantage of marketing activities created by brands to drive loyalty and, in doing so, build advocacy.

Addressing the question from the perspective of the financial sector, panellist Megan Caywood, Managing Director at global bank Barclays agreed that rapid advances in tech have meant the industry has had to shift its understanding of its customers and that now, the way to win the market is through removing friction. The way in which Barclays seeks to do this is through integrating digital tools that enable customers to make better financial decisions, for example by making it a lot quicker and simpler to open a bank account.

Weston also offered the view that some friction can be a good thing but that brands need to think carefully about creating experiences that allow customers to interact with them in the right way. She argued that friction done right can build trust especially around learning and educating customers. Her vision for the future of banking is that: “It’s not about paperwork but about the customer journey and ease of decision making. It’s about finding the balance between offering services that take existing customers forward and meeting new ones on the way.”


Pigzbe: Pocket money in a cashless society

One of the exhibitors at Unbound that really caught our attention was connected piggy bank Pigzbe. It’s an attempt to answer a surprising but important question: as the economy becomes more and more cashless, through eCommerce, digital media and contactless only stores, what happens to the humble piggy bank?

In next week’s blog Dave Dalrymple-Pryde will unpick Pigzbe and consider the implications for the future.

News & insights straight to your inbox!