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5 takeaways from the SBJ Brand Innovation Summit

Libby Spicer Jun 28, 2022 8:45:00 AM
With harnessing technology at the core of Zippin’s business, Gary Jacobus says he was at Brand Innovation representing a new breed of Silicon Valley companies.

At this year’s Brand Innovation Summit, a conference presented by Sports Business Journal and dedicated to brand innovation, Zippin’s SVP of Business Development, Gary Jacobus, was invited to speak about building a culture of innovation within a company, and how checkout-free technology is spearheading a revolution. 

Here are his five takeaways from the event.

1. Innovation as a concept can be really daunting

When you say you’ve got to be innovative within a company, what does that actually mean? Northeastern University defines it as the process that an individual or organization undertakes to conceptualize brand new products, processes, and ideas; conversely, Harvard Business School pegs innovators as contrarians, teams who believe their job is to upend industry rules and move the company away from ingrained beliefs. Every company is wrestling with this, so if you’re going to say you’re an innovative company, you’ve got to define what innovation means to your team, company, or brand. Otherwise, it’s too big — it’s a universe.

2. Once innovation is defined, you have to build a culture around it

Once you’ve built that culture of innovation, you have to make it permeate from the CEO all the way down. You must work at actively building that culture and people have to think about it, people have to act on it, and you have to give them the opportunity to contribute. Google has its ‘20% time' policy where they literally give their teams a day per week to go and sit in a room and just innovate and come up with crazy ideas. That, in itself, is innovative.

3. Let good ideas come from anywhere in the company

Innovation can come from any level within a company, so listening to everybody results in ideas being more diverse and inclusive. A colleague based in India just might have a great idea or a better way to do something at a sports venue. We should hear from that person. At the conference, I heard somebody talk about how he really appreciates it when he can be on a call with diverse groups within his company talking about something they don’t even work on.

I did this at Aramark; we called it our ‘major pursuit.’ When we were bidding on a large piece of sports business, we carved out eight hours and brought in 25 people from every other part of the company — campus hospitality, healthcare, uniforms, refreshment services, finance — and we’d brainstorm the elements of the partnership. We had eight hours of time from 25 people that knew nothing about the client, knew nothing about the venue or about how sports entertainment works, and it was the most productive thing we’d ever done. Listen, keep your ears open and invite everybody.

4. Incremental innovation is still innovation

I think people, including myself, get a little bit overwhelmed by thinking you have to build the next big thing. It becomes daunting. How can I come up with the next big revolutionary idea? That’s not the point. Aramark had a tagline when I was there; “innovate the everyday.” Innovation can happen every day in small ways. For example, if a concession stand team member came up with, say, a better way to build a salad, that may actually be a great innovation. They found a way to decrease the time to build a salad by 50% which means you can sell more salads and reduce the length of time guests have to wait.

The humble Post-It note was invented by a 3M worker who, in his spare time, played in a chorus. He needed a way to secure his music to a music stand, so he started taping the back of each manuscript. Eventually, he came up with the idea of putting light adhesive on the back, and the Post-It was born. The simplest and basic and smallest idea may actually lead to a huge innovation. You don’t have to turn the ship around to be innovative — you can do incremental things that can actually force major change. As 3M discovered, the simplest and most basic idea may actually lead to a huge impact on the business.

5. Zippin is already part of the conversation - checkout-free is here now!

During my presentation, I showed a video of Zippin’s American Express Shop at Barclays Center, and people were extremely excited about the technology. They were saying they’d heard about checkout-free tech but hadn’t seen it live. Everybody we talked to knew Zippin and was very familiar with checkout-free, and already looking into it for themselves. Not one person looked at my name tag and said, ‘Who’s Zippin?’ I guess it proves that everyone knows checkout-free is here and they are ready to deploy the technology to enhance the fan experience.


Gary Jacobus has been in the sports world for over 30 years, holding senior business development and partnership marketing positions at Aramark, the NFL, NBA and IMG where his focus has been on building strategic relationships. As a regular attendee of SBJ events, he notes that over the years he’s seen the summit evolve considerably.

“Early on people would talk about innovation in terms of being more creative with marketing,” he explains, “Once digital media and mobile technology took hold in the mid to late 2000s, the conference started focussing on how a brand or league harnesses technologies to be innovative. It was the birth of digital transformation. 

With harnessing technology at the core of Zippin’s business, he says he was there representing a new breed of Silicon Valley companies.

“For us, innovation is literally the reason we exist. It’s in our DNA. We’re innovating the fan experience by revolutionizing the food & beverage business. We were at this event to say unequivocally that checkout-free technology can actually change the way  you do business.”

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