Robotics Innovation Through the Lens of a Marketer
Looking back on my #KinovaOnTheRoad Tour this Fall
By Nathalie Tremblay
If you follow Kinova on social media — (you should: here’s Twitter and LinkedIn) — you'll notice a common thread in our messaging this month: innovation. We opted to focus on the idea of innovation this month for multiple reasons. First and foremost, October is on the heels of Kinova’s exciting 25M Series A funding, an investment meant to propel the company’s innovation goals into the future. That’s a good reason to celebrate innovation, don’t you think?
Marketers need to be involved in the development of the product
Second, my colleague, Keith Blanchet, wrote about the importance of bringing innovation back down to earth. Keith urged professionals, robotics fanatics and consumers alike to stop throwing around the i-word so loosely. Outside of the Kinova office walls, others debated aspects of innovation: Bloomberg argued that Google’s robotics have slowed down the process of robotics innovation; internal politics, acquisitions and conflicting product focuses have prohibited fast growth for the industry.
When I was packing my bags to head to California and Germany this month, surrounded by all this talk of innovation, I couldn’t wait to see innovation in action. And, as a marketer, I was eager to learn how companies considered the marketing element in their product planning; while innovation abounds, I often observe that one of the most frequent missteps is the marketing piece: how will you reach your end user? How will you make your product connect with their needs? What’s your unique value proposition? Commonly remaining unanswered, much to the dismay of myself — and the end user.
Here, I trace my experience on the road and my encounters with innovation — and call upon fellow marketers to help fuel the cycle of innovation.
Stop 1: The MedTech, Powered by Advamed, San Jose, California
Advamed is a popular conference that’s focused on the enterprise side of the medical world. A common theme was pressing one key issue: how do you penetrate a legacy market? The healthcare system is a difficult one to navigate, and creating ROI and economic value for new products in the healthcare system that has different value metrics per tool is key.
When you mix a legacy market together with startups, conflicts are bound to happen, which is why Advamed’s conversations around the creation of an ecosystem that allows accessibility, automation and innovation to flourish in one integrated relationship is vital.
Innovation takeaway: The innovation aspect for Advamed came through the idea of new relationships, rather than new products. Many of the products were similar, shining light on the fact that young businesses aren’t collaborating with one another. Perhaps, then, the collaboration should come from companies working together as well as the government bodies and universities.
Stop 2: Robobusiness, Santa Clara, California
Unsurprisingly — robobusiness was all robots, all day. When I would walk around the convention centre, I found dancing robots and cutesy at-home assistants that are built to be a cool at-home accessory, rather than a necessary function for human existence.
There were a few key learnings while at Robobusiness. First and foremost, I noticed that the collaborative market is clearly very saturated right now. Huge robotics companies are looking for new ways to evolve their companies. However, while all of this innovation is trying to happen, there was one very evident irony I came across: the robots were often missing one clear commercializable element: a value proposition for end users. I suspect this is because many companies design for application, and then integrate human action afterwards. At Kinova, we conduct this process in reverse order: we look to the humans first to ensure our products are aligned with their needs.
Innovation takeaway: Similar to Advamed, I noticed that accessibility is key for robotics. The major players in robotics need to continue to cultivate strong partnerships and collaborations to ensure that important products are making their way to those in need.
Stop 3: Rehacare, Dusseldorf, Germany
Rehacare is the largest international assistive robotics show in the world. The conference welcomes people from every corner of the rehabilitation world, from businesses to paying agents to governments and clinicians and students. Most importantly, Rehacare also opens its doors to End Users — who come and check out what they want. You have all influencers and decision makers under one roof.
The air of innovation and excitement was strong at Rehacare. I think it might be from the fact that every key player in the rehabilitative robotics space was present: from those who research prevention, to champions for inclusion, and care. The booths were enamouring; you could engage and interact with products in a meaningful way, and you could look at everything from massive medical machinery to reimagined walking canes.
Innovation takeaway: Being able to see children interacting with our products with ease was proof that our human-first approach leads to products that are easily adaptable to everyday life. Having a direct connection with the end user and to see the benefit in person was like watching our company purpose be realized in real-time. From this point of view, I was even more committed to the need to innovate the ecosystem: creating an ecosystem that’s flexible and agile, perfectly positioned to enable excellent products to reach the right users. Even if you have the best products, if the ecosystem doesn’t change, innovation will inevitably be blocked.
How Marketers can Disrupt Innovation
When looking around at the challenges, I couldn’t help but wonder: what can I — and my fellow marketing communities — do to disrupt the ecosystem? I jotted down a few key ideas on my way home, and once the jet lag lifted, I solidified my list. So, marketers in tech and robotics, I’m calling on you to help me make a change in the industry. Because the End Users who need robotics to improve their lives deserve it.
- Marketers need to be involved in the development of the product
Don’t get me wrong: my engineering colleagues are some of the most talented and intelligent people I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my career. However, there’s a particular value in having a marketers’ perspective at the early stages of a product’s development. From industry analysis and understanding the competitive landscape, marketers can help you launch your product successfully — and create a meaningful narrative while they’re at it. How can you say no to that?
- Marketers should find new and creative ways to educate mass audiences about the product uses
There’s more to robotics than at-home assistants and the fictional characters who are about to swoop down to earth and snag up your jobs. Marketers have the power to reach mass audience with targeted communications, and the know-how for execution. Test different formats. Go to schools and speak to kids. Go to high schools and get students excited about the limitless possibilities of robotics. Collaborate with professors. Try new demographics. Find a way to connect in an emotional way. You’re a marketer — you can do this.
- Marketers can’t wait for political or government bodies to change the narratives — we need to start portraying the message now
Waiting for change leads to complacency. Craft messages that are strong, bold and disruptive. Fight the fear of technology with messages of hope. Change the stereotypes you see by offering an opposing stance. Whether you create your content through video or features — or you distribute your messages through Snapchat or The American Journal of Engineering Research, don’t be afraid to change the narrative. Businesses are much more nimble than government bodies and we need to exercise our freedom and power in a positive way.
- Marketers need to prompt their companies to think about the meaning of innovation
Contrary to popular belief, innovation doesn’t always exist directly in the product. Innovation is about creating change within an ecosystem itself. You can build a great product with even greater potential, but if the systems remain uninterrupted — your product will remain in a box. Companies need to ask how they will disrupt, not only what they will disrupt with.
- Marketers need to ask: “are we spending our money to help people?” NOT “where can we spend the money?”
This. Is. The. Key.
Growing your brand reach is one thing. But what is your marketing worth if you’re not reaching the right people? Always know who your ideal End User is and ensure you’re putting your time and effort to reaching them. Anything you can do to fuel the process of reaching them — you should do. This is your job.