This past week the editors at Fast Company acknowledged Target as one of the “Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Retail” for “treating its stores like an innovation lab.”

So what does innovation mean at Target? The official Target blog “A Bullseye View” spoke with Casey Carl, Target’s Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, to hear his latest thoughts on growth, disruption and what advice he’d give to leaders trying to infuse new approaches into their organization. The implications for Private Brand are true meaningful differentiation and customer loyalty.

How does Target define innovation?
We define innovation as any new idea that creates a benefit for consumers by addressing an existing problem or unmet need. It also needs to be commercially viable, meaning people will pay for it. It could be a product, offering or experience.

Your title is Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for Target. What is your role in leading Target’s innovation agenda?
My role is all about creating long-term value and a sustainable competitive advantage for Target. We will do that by diversifying our business portfolio through the introduction of new business models and further extending our existing portfolio and asset base through new products, services and channels. In today’s retail landscape where the pace of change is forever accelerating, companies that desire growth must continually evolve at an even faster pace. If you look back over the past 100 years across industries, the only indicator of an organization’s continued success is their ability to consistently innovate.

How does Target decide which innovations to pursue?
Innovation has very well-established best practices. At Target, we follow a very disciplined process. It starts by ensuring that the idea is well aligned to our corporate vision and strategy. Next, we validate market potential – that the product is differentiated, that there’s a viable financial model and that we have the necessary capabilities. Lastly, we listen closely to understand consumer feedback.  At any phase in this process, an idea can be killed. The faster the better.

Target CEO Brian Cornell has said that Target is going to be a growth company again. How can your team help to make that vision a reality?
To grow, we must innovate. And for Target to become a growth company again, we must infuse innovation across our entire portfolio.  We look at three paths to growth: expanding our core business, identifying adjacent opportunities that can extend our assets or capabilities to new customers or markets, or creating entirely new businesses or business models that will be incredibly disruptive. My team will help identify and create many of these opportunities, but will also teach the organization how to leverage innovation best practices across all business areas.

What advice would you give someone trying to infuse a spirit of innovation into their own organization?

  • Be bold: At Target, we reinforce that “new to us” is not innovation.  Solve an existing problem with a real consumer market and opportunity for growth.
  • Be disciplined: Start with one idea and move quickly. Ensure that the idea is strategically aligned, solves a real problem and has a viable business model. Try to invalidate the idea throughout the process. Ask yourself – is there another way to do this or does someone already offer this? Move ideas through the process and kill them every step of the way.
  • Be equipped: Ensure you have the right capabilities and team or partner with those that do.
  • Be objective: The best innovators don’t get wed to their ideas.  Consumer feedback is all that matters. Ask them.
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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.