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A New Dimension of Innovation

Bill Graham, VP of Marketing and Product Innovation, Jazwares
Sean Watson
July 23rd, 2015

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As VP of Marketing and Product Innovation for Jazwares, Bill Graham is absorbed in new dimensions of play. The Jazwares line of licensed toys highlights the company's affinity for innovative partnerships. From the superhero-inspired NBA Heroes line to its classic Hanna-Barbera plushes, Jazwares has carved out a niche that connects adolescent play to maturing interests. For Bill, keeping an eye on the ever-changing landscape and ensuring everyone on his team has a voice is of paramount of importance.


7 Questions with Bill

1. What makes an innovative culture? How do you create a culture of innovation?

I think that bringing in people that are very good at what they do is always a great first step. In our space, that involves everything from business personnel to the creative personal. Every station is important to the process but we generally have a creative bunch of people here and that's inclusive of the business personnel as well. The reason why that is important is so that we can take a holistic brand approach. Sometimes, one of our counterparts can be too close to a project and the perspective of someone not central to a business decision or creative decision can be helpful. Overall, having a creatively minded base tends to attract talented people.

2. Do you have specific rituals for re-setting your team to be creative? How does your team generate new ideas?

Its important to talk it out when you have a struggle. It's important to continue to hammer away at things too and work with people you trust to speak freely in front of. You can't be afraid to ask a question and throw out outlandish ideas. That freedom is really important from a managerial standpoint. If you feel someone is holding back, you make sure to bring them into the conversation.

3. How do you identify trends? What resources does your team use to spot trends and consumer insights? Do you attend conferences

Yes to all of the above. As it relates to something like NBA Heroes, we were really fortunate to work with a great team at the NBA. They have a great group over there. With that brand it was really a matter of combining some prevalent trends. The popularity of NBA and putting a bit of a super heroic twist on it. We realized there was a bit of a gap to bridge between the core action figure fan and as they transition into a stronger sports fan. It's a common pattern so we were able to find great intersection between the incredible talent and personalities of the NBA and fuse that with some fun and somewhat traditional super hero elements. So, we were able to take a step back and look at the analytics of how kids engage in the action figure space and how they transition.

4. How do you ensure you're getting trends/insights information that your competitors aren't getting?

There's never a replacement for paying attention. Not that you need to dictate your own business off of someone else's approach. I think gathering information and paying attention to the extraordinary talent across our industry is really important. We always try to and make the decisions that make sense for our business but we need to pay attention to our landscape and what trends are prevailing.

5. What is the biggest challenge you face when innovating?

I think the biggest challenge is when we get the broad request of make something innovative. That idea of how you define fun is interesting. That question becomes how do you define innovation of a creative process to a brand? It really depends on the application. A non traditional application to a brand can be innovative. Circuitry and technology can be innovative, which is the default mental picture people get. However I think innovation can take on a lot of different forms.

6. Do you find inspiration or ideas from adjacent industries? Or do you focus only on your category?

The source of the brand often leads a lot of our research. Understanding the fan base and how they behave is really important. Drawing from the entertainment industry is always extremely important as well. Beyond that, just looking at all the areas of things going on in the culture. Sometimes, we'll borrow meeting notes from an article on a random topic. But looking at what's going on in arts and entertainment can often spark a conversation.

7. Looking to the future, how is Jazwares going to be a leader in innovation?

Double down on areas that we've found success in. We'll continue to evolve and sharpen are skills in terms of how we're working with our design team. 3D design, illustrative design, storyboarding etc. But also continuing to deepen out tradition as story tellers through toys. And, continuing to develop a more holistic approach which is what's demanded by our fans.
References: linkedin, jazwares