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5 big questions on innovation

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Nicole Alexander , VP of Innovation Practice, Nielsen

Nicole Alexander , VP of Innovation Practice

Nicole Alexander is a marketer and lecturer; the quintessential unconventional marketer who has an extensive background working in digital media with an enviable list of blue-chip brands. She leads the Innovation Practice for Nielsen China and in this role she advises clients on the importance of evolving consumer journeys to deliver stronger returns on investment while eliminating fragmentation of brand communication across…
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How is your team changing the game within your industry sector?

It should start from both the top and the bottom of an organization. Where leadership enables a culture of inspiring teams to develop ideas around change, provoke them to act on that change and then develop a framework that supports test/pilots to scale innovations that can be successful.


What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your organization or industry sector?

Expertise. Even the best organizations believe they have the skills and expertise in-house or know how to access it in order to plan and make pivotal decisions. With today’s digital landscape there is an access to a global network of creative minds with depth of knowledge across sectors. By utilizing Open Innovation to understand how to develop new solutions, evolve existing frameworks and plan for human capital they will need to change their mindsets in a changing environment.


How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture, and how is it being optimized?

Unilever has been successful in adopting innovation from the bottom up and top down and supporting it within their communications; their day-to-day planning and how their employees are measured. Their new Global SVP of Consumer & Market Insights, Stan Sthanunathan, has been the mastermind behind this transformation supporting and provoking the organization to think differently from developing Innovation Centers to leveraging integrated data and insight globally. They are looking at consumerization today and in the future – particularly in D&E markets – and leveraging those insights to not only innovate on existing products but develop new ones with an eye on their sustainable footprint.


What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?

Machine Learning (i.e. Big Data and AI) will be the largest drivers of technological changes in the coming years, particularly when those solutions can pair complex processing decision making with human-like judgment. In the short-term, the rise of Machine capabilities could increase productivity and economic growth, causing a shift in human capital and growth patterns particularly within D&E markets. We currently see signs of this across medical, research, agriculture and transportation areas. In the longer-term, if Machines exceed human capabilities we will see a devaluation of labor, increase in income disparities paired with increasing GDP. The great challenge will be how we ensure that this rapid technological shift doesn’t leave people behind and blend that with policy change, education, and a fundamental shift in how we view capitalism.


Can you share a specific innovation strategy you’ve recently encountered which you find compelling?

Firstly, I admire any company that challenges the good enough or “this is how things have always been done”, mindset. Uber – who brings drivers together with customers – has innovated the way we experience on-demand transportation while also allowing individuals with a vehicle to be entrepreneurs. 

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