The Challenge for Brand Managers: Innovate Without Losing Their Mind

Because running is no exception to the rule. Technological developments have opened up a field of possibilities in terms of equipment. If the shoe always allows you to put one foot in front of the other, the new foams offer, for example, plenty of weight room to make a shoe that was only a few years old envious. On the other hand, watches no longer just show lap times or speed. Now they can guide you to any terrain, anticipate upcoming challenges, or even evaluate your next visit according to your lifestyle in recent weeks. and all this with almost no need to go through the charging box. Some are addicted to it, others are crying crazy. But there is innovation. And brands need to respond to these opportunities, demanded by a large part of practitioners.

Together with the two big players in these markets, Garmin and Salomon, we wanted to find out what was behind this frenetic pursuit of innovation.

The Challenge for Brand Managers: Innovate Without Losing Their Mind

Inscribed in the DNA of the brand

Innovation is not just creating something new at an ever-increasing pace. Innovation first and foremost means offering new solutions that make sense for runners. Innovation is also part of the DNA of brands that are in danger of disappearing in the face of competition. And it’s not going to stop, according to Christophe Aubonnet, Chief Innovation Officer at Hoka One One: “The car has changed a lot in thirty years, not sneakers! When I look at the cars of that time, I just don’t recognize them anymore. But when it comes to running shoes, the same cannot be said. In my opinion, there is still a lot to be done. We barely reached the 10% gap…”

Create a break or take small steps

    Innovation first and foremost means responding to demand.  Or at least call it out to the public, if it doesn't already exist.
Innovation first and foremost means responding to demand. Or at least call it out to the public, if it doesn’t already exist. ©-

Gap, the term is used. It denotes a novelty that, in the eyes of consumers, has a value compared to previous experience. An innovation that can only be extended to the entire market. Nicolas Coppens of Garmin is also convinced that we are far from complete innovation, even if he prefers to talk about small steps rather than breakthroughs.

“Whether it’s purely sports experience or health analysis, which are two of our main focuses, we are convinced that there is still potential for innovation in terms of running watches. We still think we’ve hit the ceiling and finally the little things are evolving.” and to make possible a new distinction over what is established”, points to the world leader in the sports watch market, whom we met in Brussels. “ In our case, the goal is to be able to take into account both daily life habits and sports habits in order to ensure, for example, a properly calibrated training program. It is clear that this is the direction we are heading, even if we are not there yet. We are beginning, for example, to take into account the quality of sleep or the female menstrual cycle in our analyses. But there is still a long way to go, especially in terms of food. The goal here is not to invent new data, but to try to measure it and make the best use of it for training regular athletes.

Respond to the needs of the runner

But innovation, therefore, means, as we have said, above all responding to demand. Or at least call it out to the public, if it doesn’t already exist. Only in these cases is a break with what has been done so far possible. It’s a complex equation that brands are trying to answer. Therefore, it is not a matter of making a mistake on pain of an accident.

Innovation is a combination of market trend analysis and forecasting. You have to be able to adapt all the time, even during a project.” explains Thibaut Poupart, Salomon Paving Product Manager and Innovation Specialist. “ The whole difficulty lies in this continuous analysis of consumer needs. Because the goal should not be change for the sake of change. You must always keep the practitioner in mind. And if tomorrow we have a better solution, we must make it if it satisfies the needs of the rider.”

This is because we often have a bad idea about innovation. Innovation is not only about engineers in the lab looking for a brilliant idea and out of touch with reality on the ground. If you look back a few decades, it is easy to identify these breakdowns that make up our sports equipment today. The use of EVA foam in running shoes is one of them, as is the advent of GPS in sports watches. But in fact, these breaks are not so easy to detect when they appear and are rather the result of the accumulation of small steps described by Nicholas Coppens. “Many people think of innovation as a brilliant idea that comes from the mind” Thibaut Poupart, who has worked at Hoka for a long time, is having fun on his side. “However, innovation is more of a combination of ideas that sometimes already exist. Therefore, it is always difficult to find a break point. Sometimes a small evolution of a material, as in the case of carbon, can open up many possibilities in a combination of factors. The gap, after all, is more of a public perception.”

“If we release an innovation that is accepted by everyone, outside the microcosm of sports watches, it will become an inevitable technology.” Nicolas Coppens adds again on the notion of a break for Garmin, which is slowly moving towards a watch that no longer has to be recharged when it breaks.” If Apple or Samsung release a watch with solar charging technology, everyone will want it when it already exists but is currently in the sports niche.”

Innovation to grow better

So ideas are buzzing. And looking at the market, one gets the impression that it has never been as creative as it is today. Hardly a week goes by without a brand announcing a new version of a pair of shoes or a new watch that has been released. “Innovation brings change. Sometimes very quickly, I admit it, ”admits Nicholas Coppens. “Over the past two years, due to circumstances, the pace of innovation has been affected. And we realized that, in the end, it’s not so bad. It’s not necessary to release a new Fenix ​​every 18 months. Gradually, we overclocked the machine, which eventually played against us. Now, when we launch the device, we launch it well, but more calmly. There is a desire to slow down, without predetermining the timing. But we should not be naive. There is a lot of demand in the market for something to go fast. The release of new watches like the Fenix ​​7 causes a big sales spike that we won’t find again next year unless we release a new watch. Therefore, in order to maintain our growth, we must also maintain a minimum of innovation.”

    Salomon's first fully recyclable model
The first completely recyclable Salomon ©-

Today, this is not yet the case, even if Salomon, for example, produced the first 100% recyclable Index 01 model in 2021. Although brought to the market, we nevertheless remain more in the prototype than in mass use. “Like all industries, we are far from perfect, but reducing our environmental impact is obviously part of our vision for innovation. If we manage to get the same level of performance for a shoe with less environmental impact, it will ultimately be value creation for the consumer to find what they want. But, let’s be realistic, we’re not there yet. And that’s okay. On the one hand, we have 50 years of innovation and evolution, and on the other hand, we have only a few years of technology and work.”