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Episode 45: “Innovation Labs: Unknowns to Opportunities” with Aviad Stein, Head of Digital Experience Strategy for the Broadridge Innovation Lab

Aviad Stein, Head of Digital Experience Strategy for the Broadridge Innovation Lab, and Matt Swain discuss the key benefits of innovation labs, including implementing robust experimentation processes, nimble approaches, and client feedback.

Matt: I'm Matt Swain, and you're listening to the "Reimagining Communications Podcast," where we discuss the opportunities and challenges facing companies on the road to optimizing their communications for the future. Today, I'm joined by Aviad Stein, head of digital experience strategy in the Broadridge Innovation Lab. Aviad, thanks for joining us today.

Aviad: Thank you, Matt, for having me. Really excited to talk to you today.

Matt: Excellent. No, I'm excited for this. And I wanted to start with some of the roles that you've held in the past where you've led an innovation lab at Nordstrom. You've done product and strategy work with Bloomberg and Dun & Bradstreet. You've served as an advisor and consultant to startups on digital strategy, growth, and customer experience. Can you share some highlights and lessons learned from those roles?

Aviad: Yeah, definitely, I'll be happy to. So, as you stated, you know, I kind of served in different roles going from forming innovation labs in a few companies, Fortune 500s, like Nordstrom, Bloomberg, and Dun & Bradstreet, and also in small startups, where I have them really just define both their customer experience strategy, growth, and ability to diversify their portfolio and going even to different markets. The common thing across those industries and across the brands that I have worked with in the past were that they were all focused on the end-user.

Coming to Broadridge, I saw an opportunity for us to expand the way that we think about our solutions, about our offerings, to start with identifying and focusing on the customer needs.

I find it very interesting also, you know, throughout my career, that data and research became an extremely important aspect of the decision-making, right, prioritizing what type of solutions you might want to build for your clients, had to be focused and had to be reliant on customer data, on market analysis, on defining and creating different hypotheses, right, that you would want to validate with your customers. And so, those 18 years before I joined Broadridge, which really prepared me coming to an organization that have tremendous success among our own client base, but really elevating and focusing ourselves on being even more customer-centric, right, and being able to integrate different processes around innovation and different elements that will help us focus on elevated value, at scale for years to come.

Matt: So Aviad, obviously with your background, you tend to take a more disruptive approach. You tend to like the startup world; you launch innovation labs in companies that haven’t had them in the past. Can you talk a little bit about how you take that into a company like Broadridge and how you’ve been successful in launching the work that you have?

Aviad: Yeah, that's a great point, Matt. I think that has been a challenge and an opportunity, I think for many large corporations and Fortune 500, right, companies who are trying to disrupt and some time disruptions picks a lot of effort in acknowledging where you're positioned in the market, both from the way that you define, and prioritize, and push to market different solutions, but also and even more importantly, the way that you are operating internally. Right? I mean, a lot of companies are using some buzzwords around moving to agile, moving to Scrum teams, and being able to really define different focus areas that are focused on the end consumer, but in reality, it's very, very difficult.

And joining Broadridge, I think I joined at a great time where a lot of people in the organization are already understanding, right, the value of innovation. But in order to take it to the next level from just talking about innovation to actually implementing it, you need to put processes in place. And I think the first thing that we have tried to do is, create a process that is primarily focused on the validation based on customer needs. We're trying to help prototype and design different solutions, directional solutions that will address those needs.  We're in a position right now, where we have very strategic initiatives that we want to push to market so we can move much faster, right, in the process from unknowns to quantifiable opportunities.

Matt: I think those are really important points. And I also wanted to touch on the formation of the Broadridge Innovation Lab where you sit now. Can you speak a little bit about the lab and your mission there?

Aviad: Sure. You know, the formation of the Innovation Lab, which was formally introduced in Broadridge in the beginning of 2021, really echoed those type of opportunities that we saw in formalizing a process and a team that is able to really centralize some of those hypothesis-driven and some of those long-term goals that Broadridge might have and want to achieve using our clients, using our technology, using the data that we have at our disposal, but putting it in a format of a team that will be able to actually go and run a very robust experimentation process, right, and vetting those ideas very quickly before we make those part of our product roadmap, right, in our solutioning process.

And so, the Innovation Lab is a centralized team that's working with all the business units, accommodating to the customer needs and the business objectives but being able to really go in an independent manner and validate some of those opportunities that we have as an organization. We started by outlining the process of innovation by taking in consideration where we are positioned in the marketplace. What are some of the core competencies, right, and advantages that Broadridge has as a brand, as a solution in the organization, and trying to leverage that, right, in terms of quantifying, where should we place our bets and where should we even start experimenting some of those ideas that we have.

Matt: So, Aviad, can you give some examples of some of the things that you're working on within the lab without naming clients, of course, but at least, the themes that you're covering and the problems that you're trying to solve?

Aviad: Definitely. So, you know, we've identified a few areas where we believe that, on the one hand, they're really complementary in supplementing the Broadridge advantages in the marketplace, and at the same time, allowing us to go and experiment. And one of those larger initiatives that we started to focus on early last year was reimagining communications.

And so, what we start doing is focusing on regulatory and transactional communication as a whole and trying to figure out, is there a way for us to start and create a much more compelling, relevant experience to investors in this case, when they receive it from their brokerage, and the banks that they're working with? We've ran through the Innovation Lab process of generating multiple hypotheses, right, about the value that consumers and investors, in this case, will have if they received communication. We realized that some of those communications are not well understood by investors. And that was what made us focus on those type of communication to begin with.

We came up, again, through the Innovation Lab process, with a few ideas, or how can we bring all of those together to a consolidated aggregated communication? And at this point, what we're trying to do is work with some clients and test those hypotheses in market right with their clients. And, you know, if I even generalize these entire strategic initiatives that we're working on right now, the framework that we're trying to follow is how much relevant content we can produce and include in communications, the delivery methods, and even more importantly, I would say is the cadence, right? When you combine those two pillars, the cadence, the delivery method, and the content type, you're able to really produce something with substance for end consumers. And this is what we're focused on right now for those multiple clients that we're working with.

Matt: So let's talk a little bit about the approach that you take there because there are a couple of pieces to this. One is you have to find a client that is willing to challenge the norms of how they've thought about client communications, then you also need to gather insights from the recipient base or from anyone in the ecosystem to make sure that you're validating the approach that you're taking, then you're probably taking a stab at a concept design and going back and validating again. Can you talk about the iterative nature of how some of these come together, and also the type of client that is best suited for truly reimagining that experience?

Aviad: Sure. That's a great question. And I would say that, you know, when we put together the plan of solving for communications, we looked into different types of clients that we're currently working with and try to put a list of all the business objectives, and some of the needs that we believe that they're trying to solve for, for their clients. And, you know, the process that you kind of indicated the iterative process, right, from vetting ideas to building a framework right for what the experience is going to look like, and then testing in the market is something that we are working very closely with our clients, right, to participate. Because we have a lot of unknowns in terms of how they're currently serving their clients. We have a lot of unknowns, right, about the type of data that is available to them and to what extent they're even leveraging that data, right, to modify those communications and truly reinforce those relationships.

And so, the process that we've been taking is really a designed thinking type of a process where we kick off sessions with our clients, and really just try to listen and learn from them, right, about their pain points and what's important to them to achieve. Is that, for example, cost savings? Is that higher level of engagements? Is that potentially, okay, acquiring more clients in the process? And once we have a clear idea of what they're trying to solve for, we are running through a set of activities to get them to a point where we built together measurement of success over what that process is gonna look like. And at the end of those type of activities, we're able to create a scope for what the experience could look like if we're targeting your clients. And throughout that process, okay, obviously, we're working with the clients to iterate some of the components of the experience, we find the key metrics, being able to understand what data is available, not available.

And at the end of that process, we're able to put together our recommendation, of what should be tested in the market. So, again, the iterative process here is one that has multiple folds, both from an experience perspective, the data collection, the assessment and kind of the synthesizing the data, and then understanding exactly, okay, to what extent it can be scaled in the market. And what are some of those benefits that those client is gonna have from the cost perspective and even brand positioning and so forth.

Matt: So I think there's an interesting theme here that we've discussed in other podcast episodes as well on cost reduction goals versus creating more engaging experiences. You're certainly talking about creating engaging experiences that then help achieve cost reduction goals as one of the objectives, but maybe not even as the primary objective. Can you speak to some of those metrics that clients that you're working with today are most interested in? And if they are leading with cost reduction, how you're guiding them toward other benefits?

Aviad: Yeah, definitely. You know, we all know that most brands would like a majority of their clients to be more digitally adopted and digital savvy. So they'll be able to essentially save some cost on sending physical communications. But that's not how they truly prioritize the work that they want us to do with them. What they care for primarily is, "What type of experience I can put in front of my clients so that my clients will see the value of our relationship, they will see the value of the service that they're getting from me as a brand, and also see it as an opportunity for upsell and cross-sell."

And so when we have that particular mindset with some of our clients, it's obviously making our life easier. And I can give you an example. We've been working with a client recently that came to us and said, "I would like to reduce my physical communication by 10% of what I'm going to send you. And for various reasons." And we asked them, okay, why they would like to do that? And they said, "We're sending out a lot of communications, but we don't see any of our clients even communicating back to our advisors, unlike some of our E-clients who are logging in even to the website in the client services portal, and they're able to ask questions because they have all the information in front of them."

What we took of that is that they are enriching the experience and the knowledge that clients have in comparison to those physical communications. And what we try to do at that point is really just make sure that we quantify with them, what is the value if we're turning off physical communications at that point? The process was really interesting. And what we realized that we can actually make those experiences very unique in nature, so that they will not even think about print as an extension of cost reduction, but they will see that more as a unique experience for the people who might not even want to go and log into the portal.

There's a great value in looking into creating an ecosystem of experiences that combines physical communication and online communications. We start differentiating the two. And when you start doing that, cost reduction, that has been a secondary objective for some of the clients is becoming much, much more compelling because you start combining that and tying that to the actual experience that you're delivering.

Matt: What do you think holds companies back from innovating with these communications?

Aviad: Through some of the research we've done internally, we realize that the clients themselves who were sending out communications, not necessarily feed that as a method that reinforce the value of the relationship and the relationship itself that they have with their clients. They do see that more as a mandatory thing that they have to send out. What we're trying to do right now is obviously change that mindset, and to make sure that they understand that those communications to the end consumer, they mean a lot. They mean a lot if they're personalized. They mean a lot if they're relevant. They mean a lot if they have enough information that can give them a sense of trust and a sense of confidence of the relationship they have with the firms that they are working.

We're also kind of shifting the mindset that clients have of the value of those communications. And I think that we have done a great job to date throughout our studies of threats up with the politics we're currently having in market to prove how much of those communications can mean also to the brands themselves, from a branding positioning perspective from the ability to actually go and attract and acquire new customers that traditionally would not even consider joining them and so forth.

Matt: Yeah, I often find that there are innovative people within every client organization. But to really inspire change, you need a spark at an executive level. You need somebody at that executive level to really be bought into rethinking the status quo. And then when you go into those ideation sessions and workshops, making sure you have a cross-functional team represented so then you're starting to check the boxes of who's in the loop and also making sure that everybody feels bought into the vision and airs their concerns and have peers, providing counterpoints, or even just identifying a narrow tract to take to circumvent some of those concerns that may have stopped them in the past.

Aviad: I would say the number one and the most critical component of driving change, driving transformation, and being disruptive is the acknowledgement from the executive level. And in this case having an executive sponsor who understands and backing up those initiatives. Oftentimes, an Innovation Lab as a whole, or even being innovative can be perceived as really changing the way that the business is currently functioning. And especially in companies of people who have been very successful for many years, there is some risk assessment. And there is some fear that you will potentially cannibalize and jeopardize the way that you operate currently and the way it's going to affect your relationship with your clients.

And so, the point of having an executive sponsor, and having that acknowledgement that aside from continuing, and scaling, and optimizing the existing businesses and the offerings that the business have, you need to have more of an experimental entity that is able to both engage with clients in going to validate. And experiment around new ideas is critical, not just okay for the success of the business, but more so to be able to demonstrate your value to your existing clients and getting them to see that you're also thinking ahead and wanna work with them to solve for new opportunities. Having the executive sponsorship and the acknowledgment is probably the most critical factor in creating a culture of innovation.

Matt: Yeah, I think you're right. And where I would go from there is almost taking it to the step of you've got a company bought into the desire to innovate, but they're probably lacking some of the toolsets to innovate on their own and they're looking for external partners or existing vendors to support on that innovation path. So take a Broadridge client, for example, how would that client approach the Broadridge Innovation Lab? How would you help them get started? Where do you start?

Aviad: Yeah, that's a great point. And I think, you know, since we recently formalized Innovation Lab, I think that it's not really well-known, both internally and to some of our clients. The way for us to get the word out there that we've formed that team and we are committed to experimentation.

The idea here, again, is to have that as a service offered to some of our clients who want to experiment alongside their existing partnerships. Because at the end of the day, and I know that you know this as well, Matt, it's all about creating quick wins. We're doing it right now with some of our clients. We'll be able to obviously demonstrate and, kind of, introduce the process we're taking, what can they expect from working with us? What can they expect from an output perspective? And to what extent, okay, we can actually help them solve for some of those strategic initiatives that they have and they might require and want our help with it.

Matt: Excellent. How does the communications market continue to evolve over the next few years? What are your thoughts?

Aviad: That's a great question, Matt. If I had to guess, I would say that you're going to see a lot more personalization and content that can really speak to consumers across industries baked into those communications. I think that when we started the process of reimagine communication, we're looking at it from the perspective of the regulatory communication and transactional. We're going to continue, I think, to see the combination of the two coming together.

And one of I would say the large trends is the level of personalization between the brand themselves and the end consumer based on the history  of their relationship. I would be very curious to see how can you take that experience and bring that, for example, to regulatory communications? How can you inform investors of different elements that are tied directly to their portfolio, to their strategy, to their goals that they're setting and bring that to life in those communications? So they can be both informed very well, but also take certain actions that really help them feel much more comfortable and invaluable with the brands they're working with. So I think personalization as a whole can be a really interesting and to what extent we can actually expand on that when it comes to those types of communications.

Matt: Excellent. Well, Aviad, thank you so much for your insights today.

Aviad: Thank you, Matt. I appreciate you having me.

Matt: I'm Matt Swain, and you've been listening to the "Reimagining Communications Podcast." If you liked this episode and think someone else would too, please share it, leave a review and don't forget to subscribe. If you're ready to reimagine your customer experiences, consider the Broadridge Communications Cloud, an end-to-end platform for creating, delivering, and managing omnichannel communications and customer engagement. Lastly, to learn more about Broadridge, our insights, and our innovations, visit broadridge.com or find us on Twitter and LinkedIn.