Kyle Nel is executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, where he has developed the Lowe’s Holoroom, an augmented and virtual-reality home improvement design tool, the OSHbot autonomous retail service robot, and in-store and online 3D scanning and printing.
In Nel’s words: “I (and my team) build new technologies that solve consumer problems, as envisioned through science fiction prototyping, by creating uncommon partnerships to quickly make science fiction a reality.”
Nel, who serves on a variety of advisory committees and boards, including Google Consumer Surveys, Fringe Factory, and the Insights and Innovation Exchange, recently participated in our “4 Questions for Marketing Innovators” series.
1. What is one marketing topic that is most important to you as an innovator?
Technology and marketing are both fields that have been completely transformed over the past decade, and the pace of change is only accelerating. The critical piece to keep in mind, though, is the human component. Cramming tech in any context just to say you are innovating is not enough. Particularly in the retail setting, tech has to make that experience simpler, more intuitive, and add real value to the customer, or it’s just noise.
2. Why is this so important?
Without a focus on people, technology is often a solution looking for a problem. We start innovation with a process called science-fiction prototyping that grounds our work in true narrative and enables us to explore possible ways that technology could impact our lives in the future and address the challenges we know our customers face every day.
This process has helped our teams bridge the “chasm of how” that puzzles entrepreneurs and innovators all around the world, and provides a shared understanding of how technology and market needs intersect. By beginning with a story, we create a common language and vision for the organization from which we seek out partners and build new technologies further and faster than we ever predicted at the start.
3. How will the customer experience be improved by this?
Customers have many choices of where to shop, and little time or patience or attention for innovation efforts that don’t solve their problems. Lowe’s Innovation Labs has introduced three projects so far that each address a specific need for our customers.
The Lowe’s Holoroom was our first project. It is an augmented and virtual-reality home improvement design tool that helps our customers visualize a completed home improvement project and share that vision with their families and friends. We know that the visualization challenge alone stops many projects in their tracks.
Our most recently introduced project is an in-store 3D scanning and printing service that puts the power of personalization right in the hands of our customers as they can choose to customize home improvement objects and scan in their own items. These objects can then be printed in a wide range of materials and shipped directly to a customer’s home.
4. How will this improve the effectiveness of marketing?
Customers get excited about innovation when it’s accessible and fun, and this strengthens the trust they have that a brand understands and can meet their unique needs. Our OSHbot autonomous retail service robot is a great example of this phenomenon. The initial excitement at launch drove significant foot traffic into the store to see the first retail robot, but what we are really excited about is that as the novelty wears off, our customers and employees are highly engaged and responding to the robot as a useful tool to make shopping our stores more efficient and therefore enjoyable.
Bonus: Favorite activity outside of work?
Playing the mandolin.