Bosch chief innovation officer on leveraging crowds, social and the inventive spirit

Jim Fish discusses how digital customer feedback is changing marketing and product development as well as how he's fostering an innovation culture at the automotive aftermarket company

Jim Fish
Jim Fish

Every brand has fans, but it’s the ability to tap into the power of social and digital channels and craft a community of customers that will drive advocacy and innovation in the future.

Speaking at this week’s ADMA Global Forum in Sydney, Bosch chief innovation officer and VP of automotive diagnostics for North America, Jim Fish, said harnessing the crowd is vital for B2B brands like Bosch, which often aren’t directly putting their products in the hands of the end user. The company is not only using digital channels as a way of gleaning valuable and direct customer feedback on marketing campaigns and content, it’s also finding them vital to product innovation, development and advocacy.

Fish has oversees the marketing function at Bosch for the past five years, utilising his background in product management and marketing leadership in the automotive, industrial and pharmaceutical industries. In December, Fish was also appointed to the newly created innovation role and is responsible for the cultural shift and hands-on innovation programs adopted by the business.

“Digital has increased our transparency 100-fold around customer feedback,” Fish told CMO, highlighting the wealth of customer insights available through marketplaces such as Amazon, as well as social environments.

“It used to be a slow, plotting and manual process of getting into the field. Now we have this quick feedback loop. The online environment may represent only 10 per cent of our revenues, but about 80 per cent of our learning around the product happens there. That transparency is critical to positioning and creating new product.”

Fish places huge emphasis on social with his marketing team. But rather than striving for tangible ‘ROI’ from social, he said the focus is more about the value social delivers to a customer.

“I have been really taken aback by people saying their social program must have an ROI. Or what? The implication is they wouldn’t do it otherwise,” he commented. “That shocks me, because the way you measure ROI in a social program is dubious at best.

“Social gives you a chance to be human and to resonate with these users. This is especially in our case, when we’re not often placing the solution in their hands. We need this direct form of communication with them and we desperately crave that direct relationship.”

For Fish, using social channels is an opportunity to talk about the issues important to Bosch users and foster a community.

“Nothing is more valuable than a community in the end,” he said. “If you can get your customers to talk to each other and facilitate that environment, any metric you have for measurement will be blown away by that. If these communities can talk to each other in an unbiased fashion, that community will grow, be valued and they will want to be part of that community.”

The key to this is fostering and leveraging commonalities, Fish said.

“It doesn’t have to be 50 people talking to 50 people, it’s this person who bought that, and this other person who’s thinking about it,” he added. “If you could connect those people together in a real-time manner, that’s the Holy Grail.”

Leading invention

In his role at Bosch, Fish is spearheading innovation, and has 11 patents with eight more pending and five in the works. He was also recognised as Bosch 2014 Inventor of the year.

During his presentation, Fish highlighted a number of innovations occurring in the automotive and engineering industries that Bosch is involved with or working on, including the electrification and automation of cars, and the applications of deep learning and data analytics behind them.

“I’m a disruptive inventor and I get engaged with the teams to do that,” he told CMO. “In my management consulting days, when you designed a company you’d look at what’s critical to success, and those functions report to the chief. We talked about innovation the role didn’t exist in our business, yet it is so critical for our success.”

Fish’s appointment is an illustration of one of many approach being taken to innovation as digital disrupts every industry and customer engagement across the globe. Some, for example, are creating standalone innovation labs as a way to foster new ideas, while others are looking to transform the wider culture and operational behaviour of their business to cope.

Fish said he’s driving innovation both through tangible measurement, as well as a more intangible cultural shift. Overall, he’s spearheading change initiatives for globally based teams around embracing new technologies, experimentation, new methodologies and internal and external partner collaboration.

“The tangible, measurable stuff is things including patent filings – you’re encouraging a culture but at the same time you want results,” he explained. “The result then becomes how much do you feed into the approval process of the business. You don’t expect some ‘get out of jail free’ card for a great innovation that you personally think is the future. It’s defining a platform, then not just saying we’re going to invest in it, but gaining small-scale investments for pilots that validate the model of a platform being suggested.”

Marketing is increasingly becoming part of that product development and innovation process and requires more and more technical knowledge and capability to function, Fish said.

“The CMO in my business needs to be more and more technical as time goes on,” he said. “As the product increases in complexity, and the business models grow out of these emerging trends – sensorisation, connectivity and data analytics – those spawn all new business models. To even message the value proposition of a new business model, you need to understand what it’s about.

“The difference between selling a dress is that it’s always about image and appearance, and sometimes selling cars is a fashion show. But selling value propositions of new business models takes an innate understanding of how that value is created in order to be able to communicate it.”

It’s not just B2B marketers that are facing this challenge, Fish continued. “Many consumers are engaging in new ways to sustain their mobility,” he said. “These people are playing around the market models of connected vehicles and how you clearly articulate the value of participating in that model for you, as a mobility consumer.”

As a result, there are people within the marketing function today who would have been considered IT five years ago, Fish said .

“They’re coding in HTML, creating our sites for us, we have people wiring up our ecommerce platform, and they work in marketing,” he said. “In our business, we’ve said IT can’t keep pace with what we need to do in marketing, so we’re going to do this stuff, and they are tasked with keeping all the systems up and running.

“The IT officer and organisation is more system and architecture and it’s internal, whereas marketing is external. When you’re talking about UX and the experience users have interacting with you, that’s not a space IT has ever played in before, it just happens to be a digital way it’s done today.”

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