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Lessons From Innovations In 2020

Tiffany Mok

December 11, 2020

Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash

Innovation. It’s a term that’s everywhere. You see it bolded on websites, nod along politely when you hear it in meetings, but this versatile term has many scratching their heads and wondering what it really means. As this buzzword (especially popular in 2020) is frequently inflated, a clear definition is essential. Here at Binomial, we see innovation organised into three main categories - product innovation, go-to-market innovation, as well as internal innovation. 

#1: Product Innovation

Arguably the most well-known form of innovation, product innovation refers to improvements in performance and attributes of the product. A good example would be what most of us are familiar with today (perhaps a little too familiar), the camera phone. While it may be a struggle to think back to a time when mobile phones could not take pictures, let alone selfies, it actually took product innovation to incorporate cameras into phones. Although there are many debates as to who truly produced the first camera phone, most would agree that Sharp was the first company to launch a commercially available camera phone in 2000. The camera phone, released by J-Mobile (now, SoftBank) in Japan, offered 0.1 Megapixel resolution. And the rest is history. 

We’ve picked out some of our favourite product innovations of 2020, and here’s what we learnt from them.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group

We all know how hard the hospitality and tourism sectors have been collectively hit across the globe in 2020. With lockdowns imposed and travelling (practically) grinding to a halt, these sectors were forced to innovate and find other streams of revenue to stay alive. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group did exactly that, and found new ways to sell their luxury hotel experience. 

How did they innovate their product? The hotel group thought of new ways to improve their whole product offer. The Staycation by M.O. programme in every city that they launched in included attractive deals and benefits that enticed customers. In Boston, they are promised early check-ins and late check-outs with included breakfast, a bottle of wine, as well as $50 credit toward other purchases. 

In some cities, you are able to call for ‘room service’ from the safety and comfort of your home, and Mandarin Oriental will arrange to deliver what you ordered straight to your doorstep. This includes food, goodies from their cake shop, supplies from their own spa, as well as other merchandise. This particular initiative is an example of how Mandarin Oriental innovated in their revenue model.

What makes them special: Besides innovating their revenue model and giving people a chance to enjoy ‘room service’ without leaving their homes, the group leveraged this opportunity to promote their housebrand products as well. Their signature housebrand spa products were one of the items that are available for room service, giving many access to their products without having to physically go to their spas.


Mandarin Oriental’s Own Signature Spa Products

Singapore’s Self-Help Temperature Scanner

As the earlier days of the pandemic saw a greater need for a mass taking of temperatures, Singapore began shoring up its efforts to cope with this need. The government’s healthtech agency IHiS worked with local startup Kronikare to create the iThermo solution in just two weeks, an AI self-help temperature scanner. Through adapting technology from an existing wound-scanning device, the teams were able to create a device that could take into account ambient temperature, distance, as well as isolate the temperature measurement to be taken only at a person’s forehead. Through the innovation of this product, manpower labour was able to be reduced when every building required the scanning of temperatures. 

Pictures of the iThermo Solution from IHiS' Instagram


What makes them special: This innovation was driven by the dire need of a mass market self-help thermometer, and formed in just two weeks by adapting existing technology and other off-the-shelf materials. It was sensitive to the current needs of the climate, done creatively and in record time.


#2: Go-to-market Innovation

This category of innovation is what most of us actually encounter innovation in, but tend to not be acutely aware of the part innovation actively plays. Go-to-market innovation sees innovation in brand and marketing, go-to-market channels, as well as customer experience.


Lockdown Haircut - UK’s First Virtual Barber

The UK saw founders Jeroen Sibia and Dan Silvertown launch Lockdown Haircut, a platform connecting barbers with customers to avoid DIY disaster and raise money for their NHS. Customers are able to book a 20-minute online video appointment with a professional local barber and they would walk you or a friend through your trim, step-by-step. For every session that was booked, the organisation would donate a portion of the fee to the NHS. This initiative saw innovation in traditional go-to-market channels, which would typically be in physical salons, but the lockdown prevented that and the platform used a virtual channel instead for people to get a haircut (its effectiveness might be different if dentists were to do this for extractions!).


24/7 Safety Station
Selecta's 24/7 Safety Stations


Selecta’s new ‘Safety Stations’ launched all over Europe are equipped with safety products and are vending machines designed to supply essentials such as face masks and hand sanitizers. Created with the aim of helping commuters and travellers stay safe during the pandemic by allowing consumers to purchase such products if they lose one or leave them at home, Selecta innovated in their go-to-market channel. With no human contact and less manpower needed, which is an important factor in the current climate, internal efficiency is also increased.

What makes them special: Lockdown Haircut and Selecta’s Safety Stations are socially responsible and relevant forms of innovation during the pandemic. They provided innovative go-to-market channels and increased internal efficiencies during this critical time, which was helpful to all its users.


#3: Internal Innovation

Some call it process innovation, some call it organizational innovation, but here at Binomial, internal innovation refers to a myriad of areas that involve innovating internally or within the business. 

Such areas include:

  • Internal effectiveness and efficiency: Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of internal processes through innovation
  • Structure and brand architecture: Innovating the way customers access and relate to the company’s portfolio of brands
  • Network and alliance: Finding new channels and ways to expand your network and alliances
Chipotle Mexican Grill

Earlier in the year, this Mexican food joint’s management foresaw that orders for pickup were going to be its lifeline when the pandemic worsens. Thus, ‘digital kitchens’ were added to the outlets that did not already have them, where it handled online orders for takeaways. Digital orders for pickups grew so fast that Chipotle announced in mid-2020 that it would need to hire around 18,000 new staff. As thousands of restaurants worldwide continued to struggle or fail, Chipotle stock was hitting new all-time highs.

Chipotle Mexican Grill's Digital Kitchen

Chipotle Mexican Grill is thus an example of innovation in internal effectiveness and efficiency, catering to new consumer trends and needs that arose due to the pandemic and being agile enough for it to be successful.

What makes them special:  They stayed ahead of the curve by foreseeing pickup orders as their lifeline through being in tune with their customer needs, so their innovations in internal efficiency and effectiveness were done early enough such that they could experience a surge in demand instead of a loss.

These innovations were very much in tune with the needs that 2020 brought, and bettered the lives of many. Don't underestimate the power of innovation, it has become an essential part of business.

Binomial is an innovation and creative practice. We help companies be agile and plan for the road ahead even during uncertain times. We see three categories of innovation - internal innovation, product innovation and go-to-market innovation. Get in touch with us if you want to know more, or need help figuring out your brand and how to activate it impactfully during this pandemic.


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