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4 Ways to Accelerate Using Innovation Sprints

As the ivory tower of business, innovation was once thought of as an audacious goal. It was for abstract thinking, large budgets, and big-picture ideas. But, like so many things, that is in the past. Today, innovation is just trying to catch up with the pace of change—and the current inflationary environment only exasperates this. Businesses and individuals alike are being forced to adapt on the fly, think creatively, and as a result, come up with new ideas and solutions at the same speed as the rapidly changing environment.

While quick-hit “micro” innovations meet the immediate needs of our current climate, how do brands make sure short-term priorities are also in support of long-term business goals? In short, how can you innovate swiftly, but smartly, to accelerate your company’s long-term possibilities?

After emerging from the world of agile technology, sprints have become common vernacular amid user experience, innovation, and human-centered design (HCD) teams. Sprints are a quick-turn, phased approach to working that are designed to help you identify the best ideas and get them to market quickly.

Gain Real-Time Customer Insights

First, think about your goal and what you need to achieve to select the Innovation Sprint that is best fit for your organization. Here are a few thought starters and what you can gain from each:

Gather real-time customer insights to prioritize customer needs and benefits around pressing product or messaging challenges.


Best for:

Bring the outside in and inspire teams through deepened customer and market understanding.


Best for:

Feed your innovation pipeline and generate fresh, new ideas.


Best for:

Establish a Center of Excellence that infuses human-centered design into your innovation and product development process to drive collaboration and business success.


Best for:

How One Brand is Executing

A leading U.S. automotive manufacturer is using its innovation sprint as the linchpin of a larger initiative. Coupled with more in-depth qualitative and a market trend pulse survey, the sprint enables them to prioritize customer needs and benefits around a pressing product challenge. A customized socialization plan for stakeholders will then ensure that the customer voice remains at the forefront as each need and/or benefit moves from ideation to action.

As technology continues to fuel faster processing times and access to more data than ever before, agile work groups and sprints have become a valuable solution for many work teams especially user experience, innovation, and human-centered design groups. Change is inevitable, and we might not be sure what that change will look like, or how it will affect the market, but with agility and wiliness comes opportunities for innovation.

3 Ways to Leverage Human-Centered Design at Your Organization

By Patricia Salamone, DIrector, Client Consulting, Gongos, Inc., part of InSites Consulting

In a world where business challenges are increasingly complex, identifying your objective and framing your problem correctly is an integral way to demonstrate leadership and ensure teams don’t inadvertently solve the wrong problem. This is where a Human-Centered Design (HCD) mindset comes in—providing a groundbreaking way to define and ensure teams are focused on the right objective.

First, consider the challenge and objectives.

Not all business challenges need to be completely reimagined. Before jumping back to the drawing board, ask yourself, is there an obvious answer? Is there a clear approach to finding a solution? Can the team define what isn’t right? If you can’t say yes to these questions, then your business can benefit from the application of HCD principles. While teams understand they need to align and reframe challenges, having the proper tools in place is where many teams can fall short.

Move past traditional methods and be inspired to see challenges by taking a step back to reframe the problem:

By making problem-reframing a habit, you are opening your organization up to greater flexibility and new pathways for innovation. This method also has the added benefit of clarifying gaps in knowledge and revealing where additional customer insight is needed.

Make empathy a daily habit.

A core principle of HCD is that empathy must permeate every aspect of traditional research initiatives. Simply seeking customer feedback to develop strategies often leads to insular thinking. While a research project-driven mindset is very much the norm, empathy in an HCD context is much more than that, it must permeate every aspect of the work.

Similar to reframing challenges, it is imperative to listen and learn from customer stories and perspectives. Here are some ways to establish daily habits and build stronger relationships with your customers.

Apply an agile mindset.

One of the hallmarks of HCD is agility. But being agile isn’t just about being “fast,” it’s about delivering value as efficiently as possible. In practice, an agile mindset means thinking differently about how your work gets done and the ways in which a team can break through functional silos.

Not sure where to begin? Here are some tactics to get you started:

While the above suggestions are purely jumping-off points, they serve as solid examples of practical ways you can begin to transition from understanding HCD as a concept to it becoming an enabler of rethinking both your own work, as well as becoming a catalyst to higher-performing teams.

At the end of the day, embracing the principles of HCD is a long-term journey. These proven steps will help you lead and inspire teams to begin developing new habits that quickly demonstrate the strong potential HCD has in creating a new way to see innovation through the eyes of your customers.

As published in the Braden Kelley Blog.

In a world where customers are increasingly considered stakeholders, cultivating a customer-centric culture is of the essence for any organization. Actualizing this aspiration through the elevation of customer experience was core to the 10-year vision of a newly appointed CEO in 2019.

A renewed focus on the end customer would be imperative for this global B2B2C company, which had traditionally placed emphasis on viewing operations through the lens of distributors. And achieving this mandate would require the rethinking of tools and technology historically envisioned to serve B2B users. This was of paramount importance due to ongoing development of a newly launched e-commerce platform.

Knowing the design of a digital experience that addressed end customers’ needs would depend on a deep understanding of their journey distinct from that of distributors, enterprise marketing and digital teams engaged Gongos in partnership. Together, we created a framework from which our client could map the customer journey to surface expectations and pain points at every step along the path to purchase. This qualitative research methodology applied UX principles, such as the use of “talk out loud” protocols, to the broader customer e-commerce journey and focused on identifying jobs to be done during the online shopping process.

Ultimately, this qualitative research, conducted in six countries, was integrated with a broader customer-centric perspective from parallel competitive benchmarking research and analytics of existing behavioral e-commerce customer data. These unified findings forged a clear roadmap guiding the future development and refinement of the digital e-commerce platform. Examples of the customer needs identified as part of this roadmap include improved search and navigational functions, a more intuitive cart experience, and simplified customer registration, just to name a few.

Based on this body of work, the digital and marketing teams were able to engage in an immersive learning and ideation experience, informing their development of annual operating plans. Research findings were socialized across the organization and continue to guide overall customer experience strategy, which has included further research into the customer journey. What’s more, the customer shopping experience garnered executive cross-functional alignment for implementation as a 2020 strategic investment and operating priority.

All in all, the opportunity to refocus the e-commerce business around B2B and B2C customer needs created a way to further develop digital as a primary channel for customer acquisition and retention, expand business prospects for distributors, and drive sustainability in an increasingly customer-centric culture.

To say that professional sports garner emotional bonds with their fan base is an understatement. But for one major NBA basketball team, those drivers had yet to be fully unturned until a partnership with Gongos, Inc. set out to prove the efficacy of its GEM (Gongos Emotional Measurement) method. While this proprietary approach had existed for over a decade, changes in technology and consumer behavior presented an opportune time to revamp the methodology to link the emotional drivers of consumers—and in this case fans—to brand perception, purchase and loyalty.

The research would prove vital to the Detroit Pistons, especially given that the new experience economy is taking over across most industries. And the sports industry is no different. Newly resurrected arenas, rock-star named cafes, and fashion-forward merchandise have all undergone facelifts in the professional sports industry; all in the name of guest experiences…and supplementary sales. But is that what fans are drawn to most?

Both partners acknowledge that humans struggle to articulate their feelings and emotions towards brands. When overtly asked within research surveys, they tend to provide rational responses. But consumer emotions are inextricably interwoven and largely drive their decisions and actions.

Leveraging the GEM method, a custom-crafted quantitative survey of individuals familiar with at least one of the four major sports teams in Detroit measured both the conscious and non-conscious perceptions using implicit and choice-based exercises. From there, multi-level advanced modeling and machine learning algorithms enabled a deep analysis of drivers of emotion—and to what they were attributed to—e.g., brand, franchise, guest experience, players.

The findings were a slam dunk. Gongos uncovered emotional motivators and inherent fan perceptions for the four major sports teams, enabling the Detroit Pistons to capitalize on what Detroit fandom truly means and how to differentiate within the sports and entertainment community.

“The data confirms research we’ve conducted and hypotheses we’ve had,” said Shelly Bouren, Research Manager for the Detroit Pistons, “It also provides us with new understanding about the depths of our fandom and the emotional ties they have to the team.”

The insights will serve as a guidepost for multiple tactics across operations, marketing, and ticket sales–particularly in how they connect with fans across demographic groups—and further legitimizes insight-derived strategies for growth.

While NBA teams utilize industry-leading insights and analytics, Bouren confirms that this method is a new approach to gaining understanding of emotional motivators sought by Pistons fans.

Quantitively, taking a broader look at the efficacy and usage of this research, corporate decision makers can leverage GEM to assess the impact of emotion on purchase likelihood and customer satisfaction; prioritize the relative importance of various emotions; and identify white space in the market.

“Given that up to 95 percent of decisions are subconscious,” adds Lisa Speck, Gongos’ Senior Analytics Translator, “leveraging sophisticated survey tools and rigorous analysis like the GEM method is a sure way for brands to unlock the ties that bind.”

In a food culture that increasingly values natural ingredients, artisanal flavors, and clean eating, how can a traditional packaged-goods manufacturer adapt? It’s a question North America’s third-largest food and beverage company struggled with as it sought to evolve 15 of its iconic brands — some of which were perceived as holdovers from an era of highly processed food.

Paradoxically, despite the vast amount of information they had accumulated over time, no person or team was harnessing the power of their collective knowledge. Instead, functional areas had partially informed perspectives on market trends, segmentation studies, shopper journeys, and buying patterns. Beyond recognizing the need to align eight business units on the new food culture, key stakeholders agreed that ongoing investment in syndicated trend reports was often met without actionable returns.

In concert with the culinary team, synthesizing hundreds of documents facilitated the development of a cohesive account detailing the everyday cook’s journey. The amalgamation of shopper trends, consumption data, and competitive intelligence not only informed continuous deep dives into quantifiable cooking behaviors, but also into the complex — and sometimes irrational — interplay of aspirations and emotions that drive these behaviors. Immersing themselves in these insights allowed audiences across the organization to step into the shoes of consumers to explore the impact that the modern cooking cycle — from shopping, to planning, to plating — has on packaged goods.

Once a common framework to understand the cook’s journey took root inside the organization, a curated point of view that articulated relevant trends and their influence on brands became the connective tissue. A family of focused narratives showcasing how trends related to the journey were then brought to life through the universal language of information design. Framing, context, and interrelationships leveraged the laws of design scalability to allow for repeatability, familiarity, and adoptability across the organization. These principles were foundational to the creation of materials that were not only adaptive and accessible, but translatable across online and interactive channels.

In honoring the different languages of learning across teams, these new information streams and cross-channel communications led to more intuitive decision-making. By transforming how knowledge is socialized and internalized throughout its organization, this conglomerate better fueled its innovation pipeline, while reinvigorating in-store merchandising, recipe creation, and packaging invention.

Galvanizing its investment in trend information further resulted in greater ROI on inputs that were not only sitting idle, but that at times were elusive. Ultimately, this work guided the company toward the foresight it needed to help reshape the food culture and its impact on the packaged foods industry.

In theory, today’s consumer-driven insights must find ways to reach decision makers at a visceral level. Engaging the five senses in transportive learning allows stakeholders to truly walk in the shoes of the consumers they serve.

In practice, immersion techniques are finding their way into organizations to engage and create empathy among multi-functional teams, from leadership to the frontline. Walk-throughs, true-to-life ‘sets’ that replicate consumer lifestyles and the way they live, and simulated experiences are just a few techniques that bring consumers to life for stakeholders.

These authentic and dynamic physical environments ignite the senses with tactile learning. By humanizing insights in these ways, lingering empathy inspires meaningful conversation and allows decision makers to act on that empathy.

But what about when the insights aren’t about “consumers” at all? What if they require a deep understanding of humans from which to create authentic portrayals of the characters that step into the living rooms of millions of viewers every day? And, just as vital, how could these viewers truly feel themselves in these characters?

This was the mission of one television network.

Stepping into the Lives of Military, Spiritual, and Working-Class Americans

Great television shows are not only built on great narratives, but reflect the societal and cultural landscape of their audiences. In the wake of the 2016 general election, themes of polarization and disenfranchisement led our client to recognize that they had an opportunity to ensure their lineup was representing the realities of life for millions of American viewers.

Key stakeholders partnered with us to weave primary research insights and cultural trends into carefully staged immersive spaces that explored key groups of the population: military, spiritual, and working-class Americans. Rather than presenting the insights and subsequent implications through typical means, they brought their stories to life using hands-on experiences, documentary-style videos, and infographical journeys that captured the lives of these groups. Three different spaces leveraged the senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch to empower dozens of stakeholders, from producers to executives, to internalize — and empathize with — these underrepresented Americans.

Despite facilitating three distinct narratives, common themes emerged throughout the course of the half-day event, leaving network and marketing executives with a deeper understanding of the balance between individuality and connectedness that underscores humanity. The result reinforced their strategy of creating character portrayals that reflect the world today.

In the words of the parent company’s president: “At the center of every show are men and women with an authenticity that draws viewers in and creates a bond that keeps them coming back.”

Broadening the scope of its marketing research objectives, a major US-based automotive manufacturer decided it was time to go global with their online community initiatives. Expanding beyond the Americas, they aimed to target their research across multiple countries, including the UK, Germany, and Australia.

Partnering with Gongos, they had a vision to extend the community’s cross-organizational impact to gain simultaneous insights from consumers in multiple markets, while at the same time ensuring cost-efficiencies, flexibility, and longevity.

Building upon the success of their existing online environment, we enhanced the platform to accommodate the volume of data from a larger respondent base with consumers from distinct markets. Integrating cultural nuances and customizing the language and discussions for each region, we recruited and engaged 5,000+ consumers to respond to dialogues, flash polls, surveys, news, and current affairs issues on an ongoing basis.

Targeting high response and completion rates—all the while ensuring member retention—we incentivized participation through universal, online reward points that could be redeemed for gift cards. In return, members offered insights on a multitude of automotive-related topics, while taking frequent online surveys that provided voluminous quantitative data.

Given our large sample, we also developed more intimate “spin-off communities” within the overall community that acted as exclusive portals for members to discuss niche topics of interest.

As an additional byproduct of this implementation, the global online community served as a catalyst for cohesion cross-functionally—with departments across the organization benefitting from the quick and efficient findings. Our dedicated team designed and executed research activities and consulted on and delivered high-level statistical analysis, while continually adding to the member experience and enhancing the platform infrastructure.

The CEO of the company at the time also hopped on the community bandwagon himself, requesting feedback from community members regarding a significant public media announcement. Upon this special request, we fielded his query on a Friday evening, enabling the insights team to deliver a full report on Monday morning. Now that’s turnaround!

Overall, the low-risk nature of the community enabled this manufacturer to continually push the envelope with respect to online research methodologies. From car enthusiasts to soccer moms, the members are engaged, aware, active, and have plenty to offer one of the largest car manufacturers in the world. Time and time again, community findings have proven successful in driving future research strategies and processes.