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Innovating for Growth

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Without innovation, brands and their owners will find it difficult to achieve growth and success, writes Jill McCarron.

As storm Brian gently caressed my windows recently, I relished the rare opportunity to stay indoors and binge-watch Netflix. I watched the movie Ex Machina, which left me feeling more terrified than I ever thought possible – this was a wonderfully chilling tale of the pursuit of innovative technology and the perils of ambition over logic, of excitement for new over consequences and of ego over substance. It reminded me that successful innovation requires us to be ambitious, but rooted in logic; to bring excitement and ‘new news’ to the market place, but consider the impact on our broader business goals and to ensure that innovation is, above all else, authentic to your brand.

Innovating for Success

The process of innovation can be confusing and stressful at times; we as people have a natural apprehension when facing change or uncertainty. We fear the unknown and we can be reluctant to take risks. This can be particularly true in a successful organisation. Why mess with a process that already works so well? Let’s do exactly what we did last time and we’ll achieve the same success.

Success, however, can be an enemy of innovation. If we repeat what we’ve done before, this should lead to the same levels of success – but unfortunately this is rarely the case. When we look at the shape of growth in the FMCG sector over the last five years, we have seen extreme fragmentation in the marketplace with the emergence of new artisan, local brands or owner-operated brands with quirky names and compelling stories. They’re far more concerned with being authentic and relevant than huge. The 25 largest food and beverage companies generated 45% of category sales in the U.S., but drove only 3% of the total category growth from 2011 to 2015. A staggering 20,000 companies below the top 100 drove 49% of all category growth, according to the Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Report 2016.

These statistics are a wake-up call for large organisations, because they clearly demonstrate how consumer attitudes are evolving – after years of economic turmoil, consumers are demanding a more open and honest relationship with brands.

Authentic Innovation

Ideation is seen as the fuel for innovation and it is next near impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other. Yet, it’s not the ideas themselves that make any particular innovation successful – it’s that they tap into a fundamental need. We are all human. Authentic innovation enables companies to maximise their potential by aligning the purpose of their brand and contextual factors, with the need states of their customers. This combination creates meaningful innovation that resonates with customers.

We saw a perfect example of this recently in our MCCP 5 Of The Week report. Renowned Dutch cheese store Kaan’s Kaashandel met the needs of their global customers by offering them the opportunity to purchase products through a truly innovative online store. Over 55,000 virtual visitors from 140 countries stopped by to interact with the owners and educate themselves on the product line before purchasing. Aside from meeting the needs of customers, the store was able to gain global publicity and increase sales.

Conclusion

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that goes: “When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills.” In the end, doing more of the same will no longer be sufficient to even maintain market share in an increasingly fragmented marketplace. We must embrace change and innovative with speed, agility and pragmatism to prevail. In an era where consumer trust has plummeted across all industries, honesty and authenticity are the attributes that matter to consumers the most, so ensuring your future initiatives are a reflection of this will be an important driver of success. Innovation should feel, at least, a little bit uncomfortable, but avoiding it could be even more so.

5 Steps to Successful Innovation 

We often think that being innovative is a singular focus of that lightbulb idea that will solve all of our problems. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. At MCCP we have simplified this process into 5 steps:

  1. We’ve got issues: Ask yourself what is the real problem you are trying to solve. Once you have defined your issue – make it clear how innovation, renovation of breakthrough ideas can be used to help to solve this. This forms the basis for the next phase of Discovery. Start by taking a fresh look at your business, what does your existing information really tell you?
  2. Look Up & Out: The moment you say trends, you feel like you’re stepping into the abyss – a confusing and chaotic world of novelties and gizmos – but understanding and tracking trends gives you a unique perspective on how consumer expectations are set to evolve and offers clues on how future behaviour is expected to be influenced. This knowledge allows you to focus and prioritise your efforts. We need to be ambitious for the future, but a healthy dose of logic helps us to ensure we focus our efforts in the right area.
  3. Hold your breath and go deep: There is no substitute for real, deep consumer understanding. Getting to the heart of consumer needs, wants and desires helps to ensure your innovation platforms are built on insights – a true understanding of what joys you could unlock or what consumer struggles you could help solve. The key ingredient to unlocking customer insights is empathy. Brands need to understand the lives of their customers and comprehend the role their products and brand currently do, or can, play in their lives.
  4. All together now!: Truly authentic and successful innovation lies at the intersection between trends influencing consumer expectations, a deep understanding of your consumers joys and struggles, and your brands credible and authentic space. This is a core skill of the team at MCCP. Bringing together these disparate aspects allows you to generate new ideas from well-thought through platforms that are exciting and new, but rooted in consumer truths and true to your brand.
  5. Testing, testing one, two three: The cost and risks of getting it right are huge with the high failure rate of innovation. Is the 75% FMCG new product failure rate an urban legend? Who knows, but I personally feel more comfortable taking a punt on the future when I have facts to back it up. Testing initiatives and optimising solutions is critical. Many ideas have failed because of issues that could have been addressed before going to market, but haste and excitement because you believe the idea is great can often overtake common sense.

Jill McCarron is brand strategy and innovation director with MCCP. Visit www.mccp.ie and sign up for the MCCP “5 of the Week”, to receive weekly updates in the world of advertising, marketing and communications.

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ October 2017)© to order back issues please call 016611660