The One Word You Didn’t Hear at The Fast Company Innovation Festival

AE Marketing Group Founder and CEO Brian Walker at The Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York City, November 2015. (Photo: Fast Company)

Have you ever noticed that people who tell everyone how funny they are — usually just aren’t that funny? Ironically, with that in mind, a funny thing happened recently while I attended The Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York City.

The most innovative brands and entrepreneurs from around the globe never used the word “innovation.”

Now, sure, these industry leaders don’t exactly shy away from the “innovation” label. But after spending a few inspiring days alongside them, it was remarkable how rarely — if ever — they used the term “innovative” to actually describe themselves.


Well, because they instead let their passion, work and results say so. Drawing from that insight, witness the unspoken innovation of five brands.

Global Health Corps

It Takes More Than MDs to Save Lives

Global Health Corps Co-Founder and CEO Barbara Bush at Fast Company Innovation Festival (Photo: AEMG)

When most people think of global health, they often imagine trained medical professionals working in remote villages around the world fighting disease and saving lives.

But what if we’re thinking about global health all wrong?

Consider the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Was it a medical failure, or was it actually a system failure?

The reality is that it was much more of the latter.

Whenever you examine a complex system such as healthcare, you’ll usually find that it requires a wide range of experts to operate it well. Therefore, in order to truly improve health in Africa we must think beyond just doctors.

It’s that exact mindset which Global Health Corps is applying toward endemic issues around the world, such as maternal death rates and the spread of airborne diseases like Ebola, as it seeks solutions to ensure health through healthy systems, of which medicine and MDs are just parts.

TOMS & Every Mother Counts

Using CoCreation to Help the Women and Children of Haiti

Every Mother Counts’ Christy Turlington & TOMS’ Blake Mycoskie at Fast Company Innovation Festival. (Photo: AEMG)

The footwear company TOMS practically invented the “buy-one, give-one” social entrepreneurship model that’s since been adopted by many of today’s businesses. But that entrepreneurial creation actually goes far beyond the millions of free shoes — and eyeglasses and handbags and gallons of water— that TOMS has provided since its founding in 2006 to people in need.

Building off its original business model, TOMS today is in partnership with the nonprofit Every Mother Counts. Their joint effort is a great example of the power of CoCreation, with the brands working together with the women of Haiti to design a collection of functional products for mothers and infants.

The impact of this initiative is far greater than the One for One® products that TOMS has long produced. Through CoCreation, the brands are truly empowering the women of Haiti and helping them help Haiti itself by ensuring safe pregnancies and births for the nation’s mothers and babies.

Facebook’s 2G Tuesdays

Helping Developers Improve UX at a Snail’s Pace

Facebook’s Carolyn Everson at Fast Company Innovation Festival. (Photo: AEMG)

Last year, the number of people around the world using the Internet hit 3.2 billion, but a vast majority of them are still logging on only at slow speeds — including 2G.

(Insert “First-World Problem” joke here.)

Out of those users, approximately one third (more than 1 billion) are reportedly logging on to Facebook every day. That’s a huge number. But since Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant shows no plans of slowing, the company must now look to users in developing markets such as India, Thailand and Latin America in order to continue fueling its growth.

With high-speed Internet connections lacking, these emerging markets present both opportunity and challenge for Facebook — and to maximize the former the company is ensuring that its employees fully appreciate the latter.

Last fall, Facebook launched 2G Tuesdays. Each Tuesday, the company grinds its network down to a 2G crawl for one hour so its own developers can develop empathy with potential customers in Third World countries. This approach to customer experience is particularly clever as Facebook employees are provided with the chance to see in action — or a lack thereof — what they otherwise may not in regards to UX improvement needs.

And while one hour a week working at sluggish Internet speeds might not seem like that much, try to recall the way you felt the last time your mobile phone wouldn’t load a webpage in seconds.

They can feel like an eternity.

American Giant

Making the ‘Greatest Hoodie on the Planet’ by Forsaking Real Estate & TV Ads

AE Marketing Group CEO Brian Walker & American Hoodie CEO Bayard Winthrop at Fast Company Innovation Festival. (Photo: Post-it Brands)

Want to know a dirty little secret about what you’re wearing?

Up to 80 percent of the price you pay for clothes from a traditional retailer has absolutely nothing to do with the production of the clothing itself.

Rather, the largest expense often associated with retail is actually real estate.

Yep, all those flagship stores, strip malls and brick-and-mortar locations come with a huge price. And, who pays for that? Ultimately, the shopper.

With the rise of online shopping, however, more and more consumers today are shopping with a click, not a cart. That’s hurting legacy retailers that have millions (and in some cases billions) of dollars tied up in the overhead costs associated with physical stores.

Such developments have created a perfect storm of trouble for longstanding brands like Target, Macy’s and Gap, which each have hundreds of retail locations across the country. At the same time, it’s provided an opportunity for newer brands such as outerwear manufacturer American Giant.

Instead of sinking money into property, American Giant has completely eschewed physical stores in order to focus on product. This has enabled the company to design what many have called “the greatest hoodie ever made,” and I have to admit, it’s pretty damn good.

Another huge expense for retailers is brand advertising on TV. As we approach Super Bowl Sunday, we are again reminded just how expensive traditional media has become. This year, a 30-second ad during the NFL’s Big Game is going for a whopping $5 million.

You won’t see an American Giant TV ad on during the Super Bowl. In fact, you won’t see on one TV at all. Will you ever? Probably not. Rather, American Giant has opted to master the art of leveraging social, content and email marketing to build brand loyalty and buzz, ultimately leading to sales.

The brand has recognized that if you build it, “they” may not actually come — to a store, at least. But if you build a product and brand that consumers truly do love, they will share.

And they’ll come to you online.

Network Health

Improving Health Insurance by Cutting Jargon and Tapping CoCreation

CoCreation Lab with Baby Boomers at Network Health. (Photo: AEMG)

Many years ago, Wisconsin-based health insurance provider Network Health recognized that one of the best ways to help health consumers is to change the conversation.

This entailed operationalizing the company’s entire brand around a simple promise: “We Speak Your Language.” To accomplish this, Network Health stripped confusing industry terms from its member materials, created an interactive online dictionary and trained staff on how to speak jargon-free, all in order to improve customer experience.

When larger health insurance brands took notice of these measures and began to clarify and simplify their own messages, Network Health again took the lead in the industry by launching CoCreate Wisconsin.

A movement of Millennials and Baby Boomers working hand-in-hand with Network Health to design new products, services and experiences together, CoCreate Wisconsin broke new ground in its approach to consumer insights in the healthcare industry.

The initiative was featured at the 2015 Insight Innovation Exchange Health Conference without mentioning anything about innovation.

Show, Don’t Tell Everyone You’re Innovative

Much like with humor, you’re either innovative or you’re not. And if you truly are — like these five brands — then your work is what will show it.

Not your words.

True innovation is funny like that.

Special thanks to Fast Company, Post-it Brands, Civic Hall and New York University for opportunity to participate in FCNY2015.

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