4 min read 2718 Views

Meet our innovators: Sarah Smith - Director Sensory Consumer Science Excellence

Innovation is embedded in our DNA. Throughout our heritage, it’s played an important role in the story of our brands and the lives of our people. Our innovations and our innovators have made us the company we are today.

The past decade has seen a marked trend towards people taking their health into their own hands. From sleep tracking to Strava, we’re adopting more and more solutions that help us understand how our bodies work and how we can improve them. Covid-19 has accelerated this selfcare trend and health literacy has become more important than ever.

While studies into the virus will continue for years to come, we already know that those with pre-existing health conditions are at greater risk. With lifestyle being a key factor in susceptibility to chronic illness, people are likely to think more seriously about getting fit and healthy.

We caught up with Sarah Smith, Director Sensory & Consumer Science Excellence, Hull, UK, to find out how we’re staying at the forefront of innovation…

Tell us a little more about you...

I have been at Reckitt since 2005 attracted by the entrepreneurial spirit of the business. I am a passionate human behaviour investigator and curiosity advocate. In my roles, I have always applied creative thinking to problem solving and that is what innovation is all about for me: problem solving. Those problems can be large and complex or small and relatively simple, but still a problem that needs an ‘innovative’ solution. Taking that a little further, innovating with purpose has never been more pertinent, with organisations across the world sharing their knowledge and innovating with the aim of tackling COVID-19 and saving lives.

What does Innovation mean to you?

You can innovate with purpose regardless of category or context. If you’re developing toys for example, you might be driven by a desire to help children learn in a meaningful way. Or in fashion, you could be all about reducing the negative impact clothes manufacturing has on the planet.

When we traditionally think about purpose-led innovation, our minds tend to shift to start-ups. That’s because their innovation is often inextricably tied to their purpose. If their need is not met by the market, they possess the sense of empowerment necessary to go and create it themselves. For example, if they want to make life better for cancer patients suffering hair loss, they’ll create a hairbrush that doesn’t pull their hair.

I admire this tenacity. This is where curiosity comes in. In a fast-paced environment it’s easy to neglect this innovation muscle, but without it we can often stifle possibilities. Curiosity also makes us humble as we need to listen and learn from others. Diversity of thought another essential ingredient which, when harnessed, is truly powerful.

What innovations do you admire?

One of my favourite recent innovations is the Alzheimer’s sensory box study, undertaken by Boots and the University of West London, UK. Researchers recreated the scents of popular products and packaged them with archive items from the store. These were given to Dementia sufferers and used to create a memory bridge with the past. Using the science of senses in a purposeful way could unlock some amazing opportunities within our portfolio.

Touch is another sense that plays an essential role in the way we navigate the world. I’m excited about the developments in haptic engineering, an example of this is WEART a haptic ‘microphone’ technology that can mimic the sense of touching different materials, virtually. WEART is partnering with IKEA to launch this product, which will enable you to try before you buy from the comfort of your living room. This makes me curious to explore how we could apply this technology into our portfolio.  

What’s next for innovation?

I think experience-led innovation is the next big thing. We are already seeing the retail world change to become ‘experience’ occasions. Enabling immersive experiences that help you ‘feel’ the benefit. As more people demand lifestyle brands solutions, we will need to evolve from functional to experience solutions. To be superior will take a holistic sensory expression approach. From brand, to communication, to product, to community.

As we think about the future world and the role we must play in it, then our innovation legacy should be to create superior experiences by being even more curious about the science of senses. Transforming this knowledge into the creation of truly meaningful purpose led innovative experiences.

‘Innovation’ may start with an idea. But it has the potential to change the world. In order to deliver on our strategy for rejuvenating sustainable growth, we are challenging the norm and thinking big when it comes to innovation.

We can't do it alone. Partnerships with like-minded innovators defines Reckitt. We partner with organisations all over the world that share our vision for the future.