Innovation’s Kiss Of Death
Common mistakes and ways to avoid them
As written and published in Global Retail Brands Magazine.
The trumpet in our industry is always sounding for innovation, and indeed, we all agree it is critically important to our future. While 80+% of a retailer’s own brand sales will still come from NBE (National Brand Equivalent) products, it is the other 20% that provides distinction. It provides you the edge, the “what’s new factor”, the positive halo over your entire program, and in the end, it is what may keep the consumer coming back.
But a retailer’s approach to and investment in innovation can get off the rails quickly. Some retailers try the “plug-the-hole” organizational approach, creating a “Director/VP Of Innovation” without thinking of the necessary culinary resourcing behind it. Other retailers try the “we’ll look at Trader Joe’s” approach, getting their inspiration from the more daring, and then fast-following. Others are just content in letting the suppliers carry the burden of providing them with insights, trends and ultimately new product.
For those that have made a significant investment in innovation and see it as an increasing part of who they are and how they define themselves, it is still not easy. There can be many kisses of death, and here is a rundown of how you might avoid them.
Research is no substitute for a “sensitive nose”.
There is the age-old argument about whether research is good for insight-gathering or validation, but it is true that more brand managers in the CPG industry use it for validation – validating package design, validating marketing campaigns and validating new product ideas. If retailers need to do it for political reasons, I certainly understand, but research is no substitute for a highly trained and experienced nose for what makes culinary sense. Trust your instincts, trust common sense and ask yourself if you really are addressing a consumer need, desire or frustration. New Coke, McDonald’s Arch Deluxe, Lifesavers soda are all CPG products that had millions of dollars of research validation. One of my recent favorites is Watermelon Oreos (Limited Edition), and I just try to imagine the Nabisco Brand Manager that green-lighted that idea as one that the consumer was dying for. Use your nose. Give it the smell-test and don’t ignore your gut.
Technology, Trust & Perceived Risk
If you examine the toughest-to-penetrate categories for own brands, it has historically been any one that Procter & Gamble participates in. Just look at it – Toothpaste, FemHy, Razors, Shampoo, Baby, Paper, Detergents, Swiffer Mops – and what they all have in common, beyond significant advertising investments, is a strong technology investment (along with a lot of perceived risk). Consumers trust these brands because they perceive a tech-edge, and they don’t believe retailers own brands fully stack up. We know this is changing somewhat for Swiffer, Razors and Paper with new own brand and e-commerce brand insurgents in these categories, but the obstacle is still a big one. Even if you can deliver the technology, will the consumer believe it can come from you?
The Innovation-Marketing Link
One of the kisses of death to innovation is not having enough marketing to adequately tell the story of your new product. This happens in many organizations, where innovation and marketing are not fully linked from a planning, investment and budgeting standpoint, and it can create two separate agendas. For the products intended to differentiate, in the 20% totally unique strata, these are the ones that need the back story and the in-store and out-of-store marketing. The greater the degree of innovation and newness, the greater degree of sustained marketing needs to be attached. Without the marketing, the secret sauce of your innovation will remain just that, secret.
Low-Brow Vs. High-Brow
When it comes to innovation, simpler and more accessible innovations are always better. In other words, go low versus go high, and by “high” I mean stuffy, precious and overly gourmet. There are only so many Organic pickled white asparagus spears you can sell, and the next Truffle-infused bronze die-cut bucatini will only get you so far. After years of success with the President’s Choice Decadent cookie at Loblaw, they thought of something really simple but cool, the Reverse Decadent (Chocolate dough with white chocolate chips). A great, authentic twist on the original that their shoppers could easily relate to. When thinking about your innovation and what the consumer will relate to most easily, always go low.
Wishing you great success in pushing your innovation strategies even farther. Remember to trust your instincts/your nose, know the boundaries of where consumers will allow you to push technology or not, adequately invest in marketing so that your innovations have a voice, and to make your innovations highly accessible and low-brow.