How Hallmark Embraces Innovation as a Company

What does innovation look like? How does innovation inspire change and growth? In this episode of Venture unscripted., City Innovations CEO Josh Barker sat down with Jennifer Garbos, the Design Engineering Manager at Hallmark.

Josh and Jennifer dig into the intersection of work and entrepreneurship, while providing insight into how Hallmark continues to emerge as an innovation company: the process, what technology they’re looking at next, and what human-centered design means to their organization. Finally, Jennifer shares some tips on how to move a company like Hallmark, forward in the innovation arena. 

Listen to the podcast video below or keep scrolling to read the podcast recap.

An Entrepreneurial Background

Jennifer Garbos is the Design Engineer Manager and an innovation leader at Hallmark. Her main role consists of taking 100+ years of awesome at Hallmark and aligning it with technology and behavior trends of the future to ensure consistent growth. 

But Hallmark isn’t Jennifer’s only role. She’s also an entrepreneur with her husband, a mom of two imaginative kids, a mascot, and an inventor with nine patents to her name. Jennifer’s background is actually quite interesting, “I worked as a product engineer at Ford before moving to Hallmark. And then my husband and I own three companies in the agriculture space that we’ve started from the ground up. Two of those are over 10 years old now. And so we live both the innovator and entrepreneur lifestyle.”

Because of her passion for consumer products, her experiences on both sides of the fence have been able to influence each other positively. 

Her oldest company is Four Season Tools, which builds custom greenhouse solutions for small-scale sustainable farms, especially specializing in movable greenhouses. Jennifer and her husband also launched City Bitty Farm, which is one of the largest urban farms in Kansas City, Missouri that grows microgreens year-round.

Capitalizing on Your Strengths

The work she’s accomplished before her time at Hallmark has taught Jennifer some incredibly helpful lessons, like working with what you have and applying it in a way that gives you an advantage over other companies already in that space. 

“As an entrepreneur, how do you offer value and uniqueness beyond what your competitors have? What are the strengths you have?” Jennifer noted. “Bringing that forward to Hallmark is all part of the innovation process. It makes us super lean, fast, and strong.”

“As you lay [your strengths] all out and even, [getting] as tactical as drawing them on Post-Its or writing it down, you can start to see the connections, and there’s where so much of the value lies,” Jennifer continued. “Look at what you can do really, really well. And then from that, what could you build from there?”

A Human-Centered Design

Jennifer’s background in working from a consumer standpoint and a design side has led her to really hone in on a human-centered design — providing her with a wide breadth of knowledge across the process, starting with the customer and what do they see and need, all the way to engineering. 

“I started out as a product engineer and quickly realized that my clients would be asking for a solution that’s exactly what their customer was looking for,” Jennifer explained. “So instead of developing the technology that was requested, it’s really about developing the experience with the correct applied technology.”

Listen to how some of Hallmark’s products help people make connections and build relationships through unique technology at 06:54. 

The key to a human-centered design is to start with the end consumer versus trying to shoehorn a certain product or technology into situations. It’s also important to do your research before any development. You have to figure out the needs of consumers and determine how you can address a need that isn’t already being addressed, which may call for some serious creativity and innovation.

How to Reach New Consumers and Figure Out What Works

When it comes to product development and innovation, Jennifer said she has the great fortune of working with very creative talent. 

“Hallmark’s one of the largest employers of creative professionals in the world,” she explained. “And that incredibly creative group is constantly on the cusp of emerging technologies. So, we really lean on everyone in the company to bring forward things that they’re noticing in the marketplace.”

As an innovation director, Jennifer is charged with leading exercises and team activities that fill the pipeline. But what are innovation exercises? What does that look like?

“There are so many different tools available,” Jennifer said. “Personally, I have a strong belief in being insatiably curious, and therefore I might not ever lean on the same tool. I think that the job that we’re doing is going to dictate the tool that we need or that’s required. One of my more recent favorite examples of determining what kind of technology or what innovation to proceed with, really starts with an interview process.”

The consumer needs will demand technology, but you have to have the right people who are willing to work on it and champion it. Jennifer suggests gathering all those pieces and parts of the process together and looking at who exactly the consumer is. This is the start of creating a human-centered persona that will guide all your efforts. 

The solution should validate your target market, but depending on the type of product, Jennifer noted that you’ll use a number of different consumer testing techniques. Everything from focus groups to quantitative consumer research surveys to ethnographic surveys to word experiments — it all heavily depends on what you need to learn about your consumers. 

Digital innovation at Hallmark takes many forms, listen in at 15:15. 

“We’re always running experiments, figuring out what works, what doesn’t work,” Jennifer explained. “I think that when you’re talking about an innovation program that’s built on your corporate strengths, yet you know where you want to go, let’s say you’ve done that persona development work, you understand the perfect solution that would engage that consumer down the road, but you’re not there yet. You have to run experiments to build up those additional capabilities.”

Innovator Hot Seat Session with Jennifer, learn everything from the last book she read to how she unwinds to what areas of innovation interest her most, listen in at 25:37

Defining Innovation

When operating with the understanding that you have to deliver innovation, you have to know what exactly is meant by that. So often, we aren’t checking to make sure that the very definition of innovation is correct because it can change over time and we can be more or less successful in achieving it. 

So, how does Jennifer define innovation as an innovation leader at Hallmark?

“I would define innovation as either reaching new people, new consumers, or as a new product or having something in a new place or at a new time,” she said. “I think it’s really easy if you do think kind of scientifically, it’s about space, time, people, or product. I would say that is space, time, people, or things. One of those at least needs to be new.”

“I think that Hallmark defines innovation differently by the person who’s asking for it,” Jennifer continued. “And then by the team responsible for delivering it. As I mentioned, with such a large creative workforce, so many people are delivering innovation at Hallmark, and that definition is definitely different for each team. Completely different.”

Your definition of innovation may be unique to your product, service, or industry — but whatever it is, let the definition and the research guide your efforts. There isn’t always a right answer, but the closes one would be building the right thing. And you’ll only know what that thing is when you’ve done the work, gotten creative, and researched heavily into your customers’ needs and how your solution can solve them. 

Continue Listening

Want to learn more about how Hallmark embraces innovation at their company? Click here to listen to the full podcast or watch the rest below. 

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