An Interview with Claudia Pelzer, Ströer, on data and innovation

How do you keep innovating in an industry that feels like it's changing at the speed of light? For Ströer's Dr Claudia Pelzer, the answer lies in data, systems, an enquiring mind — and the use of a board game.

The motto of this year’s NEXT Conference is Parallelwelten (“parallel worlds”), which also has a corporate connotation. When was the last time you witnessed such Parallelwelten — and what was it like?

Well, basically every single day and everywhere in a corporate context. If you pay attention, you will observe it in so many different ways and from so many different perspectives. For instance, you’ll find parallel worlds in terms of generational gaps (digital natives versus digital immigrants). One super simple example I saw this morning: the Instagram takeovers our trainees do – they use social media with such an ease because they grew up with it.

On the other hand, the complexity and distinction of our business requires knowledge and experience only an established workforce inhabits. And besides the generational aspect, I also observe Parallel Worlds in terms of professions, particularly the difference between tech and non-tech related jobs. You really need a corporate culture which is able to “translate” between both — and people who can do the same.

We should not forget about the macro-level: just look at foreign markets and corporates and the technological gap that is rising. These are also Parallel Worlds we need to understand. That’s why we regularly send small delegations to countries such as Estonia or China - in order to observe (and learn from!) their technological developments. However, I think the most crucial point is that Parallel Worlds are not something we have to be afraid of; we should be aware of them and reflect on our role and next steps as a corporate in this ecosystem.

A question that bothers many companies is: how can you bring innovation to life? Are there certain systems (i.e. of integration) to develop new ideas with transformational potential while continuously improve existing products?

This Organizational Ambidexterity you refer to (keeping the existing business running while tapping into new, digital opportunities) is still and will remain a big — if not the biggest — challenge for corporates. In fact, since Christensen published The Innovator’s Dilemma more than 20(!) years ago, I don’t see that the main challenge has changed at all. The dilemma is still out there.

But here comes the good news: we have become more aware of it. And we have more tools and systems to engage with it. Let me give you an example of our daily work: our Corporate Strategy & Innovation department has developed the “Ströer Blackbox”, a simple board game that applies a design thinking approach and can be used in internal or client workshops to collect new ideas. Very simple, short time slots, super effective in helping you think out of the box.

Using data to break corporate silos

Data plays an important role in users' lives as well as in (big) companies. Do you think data can help break the silos in corporate culture? Why is that so?

I believe, data is just the perfect glue to (re-)connect “parallel worlds”. We for instance observe this in what we call “outernet”. We connect our digital Out-of-Home (OOH) infrastructure, but we also create more and more “convergent” products that combine online, mobile and OOH media. This is what our clients need. Why? Because that’s what today’s customer journeys look like. People are increasingly mobile, physically and on their smartphones. And data helps us to understand these journeys and consumer needs in greater detail.

Let's talk about Ströer for a moment: What are your current strategic topics and activities in the market?

To be honest, in this industry, that is moving at a pace which sometimes feels like the speed of light, we constantly have to strategically adjust – to the market, to user needs and habits, to technology. Just recently, for example, we have announced the launch of a new Data Joint Venture with Otto Group: OS Data Solutions. We are super excited about this - you can imagine what it means to us, but also to the market if two big German Players manage to join forces.

Finally, what are you most looking forward to at NEXT19? 

Last year, I heard some really inspirational talks, so I’m really curious about this year’s sessions. But mainly I’m looking forward to meeting inspiring new people. NEXT manages to create such a good atmosphere for networking. NEXT Minds is perfect for that, but also the evening events. Counting the days! ;)

Dr Claudia Pelzer is Lead Manager Cross Channel Strategy at Ströer Digital’s Media Solutions Division. Ströer is a conference partner of NEXT19.