At Brand Innovation Labs, Fighting Competition of the 'Unknown'

Digital Innovators Are Part Marketers, Part R&D Lab Directors

By Published on .

A smart suitcase? A digitized bottle of booze? A comic book for big-box executives?

Recently, several brands have carved out off-site locations devoted to innovation to stave off competition. Marketers there serve, in part, as R&D directors.

Kyle Nel, the executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, described his role as fighting the competition of the "the unknown": unforeseen new firms and technologies that have the potential to swiftly topple established category leaders. Joining Mr. Nel on stage for a "Marketers Driving Innovation" panel at the Ad Age Digital Conference were Mark Nagel, executive director of the AT&T Foundry; Venky Balakrishnan, global VP, digital innovation, Diageo; and Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction, an interactive agency.

"The job of the company is to keep the ship going," he said. "My job is to destroy it, so it becomes a new ship."

In an interview with Ad Age, Mr. Nel discussed his role at Lowe's, including the work on a campaign that tapped science-fiction authors to imagine future scenarios that could hit the retailer.

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