Is Your Innovation Failing To Make A Difference?


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Washington — In the ever-evolving landscape of consumer goods, especially within food and beverage, the pursuit of innovation has become a universal endeavor. It’s a constant topic within brand team meetings, corporate events, and leadership retreats. Brand and insight teams are constantly striving to capture attention, ignite excitement, and grow market share. Unfortunately, amidst the frenzy of flashy new packages, ingredient tweaks, and novel flavors, a sobering truth emerges: much of what passes for innovation today is merely renovation in disguise.

Losing The Battle For Share

The battle for market share is relentless, with brands vying for every fraction of consumer attention and expenditure. Traditionally, this has been measured in terms of share of wallet, share of mind, share of shelf space, and ultimately, when it comes to food and beverage, share of belly — the ultimate testament to a brand’s success in satisfying consumer needs. Yet, despite the constant churn of new products and marketing campaigns, many brands find themselves merely reacting to competitor moves and struggling to get ahead of the curve.

Too often, innovation efforts fall short of the real goal. While these efforts might generate excitement and buzz in the short term, they fail to translate into sustained growth or increased revenue. Sure, excitement and buzz are great. They create retail buyer excitement, earned media impressions, and more, but true innovation needs to move the needle from a business perspective.

The Pitfall Of Incremental Renovations

Innovation should not be synonymous with mere novelty. Yet, all too often, brands fall into the trap of pursuing incremental changes that do little to impact the bottom line. Whether it’s adding new flavors and varieties or introducing a slightly tweaked packaging design these efforts might yield temporary spikes in consumer interest but it’s usually at the expense of your core product or SKU. When customers are choosing a new flavor or variety over their go-to brand, that does little to impact revenue and nothing to drive long-term growth.

The problem lies in the cannibalizing effect of such renovations. Instead of expanding the brand’s reach and appeal, they merely shuffle consumers from one product variant to another — the proverbial “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” This zero-sum game might generate short-term gains, but it does little to address underlying consumer needs or to create lasting value for the brand.

The Need For True Innovation

In contrast to incremental renovations, true innovation is about more than just surface-level changes. It involves identifying and satisfying unmet consumer needs, creating new consumption opportunities, and new use occasions. 

True innovation doesn’t borrow from a brand’s equity. It builds and enhances brand equity, building upon the core attributes customers already love and providing more reasons for loyal customers to engage with the brand. 

Rather than borrowing against the brand’s reputation, true innovation should enhance it, cementing its relevance in the eyes of consumers. That’s how you enhance your competitive strength and position in the market.

Incrementality is the key to sustainable innovation. Instead of merely reshuffling existing products, brands must strive to expand their offerings in ways that resonate with consumers and drive incremental revenue. This involves looking past what you’re currently doing, tapping into emerging trends, identifying unmet needs, and exploring new ways to become more valuable in the lives of your customers. How can you reimagine your brand for tomorrow’s customer?

Breaking Free From The Status Quo

Achieving true innovation is hard, especially from within the confines of an organization. Internal teams are often too close to the business and its existing paradigms to think outside the box effectively. However, breaking free and thinking differently is essential for guiding meaningful change and driving true innovation that can impact revenue and brand growth.

Driving true innovation requires a willingness to challenge assumptions, embrace risk, and think beyond short-term gains. Most of the time, it involves looking outside of your organization for inspiration and opportunity. And while cross-functional teams are valuable, it’s not enough to truly break free from the institutional biases that make it so tough for internal teams to deliver sustainable innovation. 

The keys to unlocking your brand’s potential for true innovation usually lie outside of your four walls. That’s true for even (or maybe especially) the most successful of organizations.

Innovation That Lasts

To succeed in driving sustainable meaningful innovation within your organization, innovation needs to be more than a buzzword or a box you check. To truly make an impact, brands must embrace a different mindset — one that realizes that past success is often a barrier to true innovation. Your team and leadership need to openly prioritize sustainable incremental growth over short-term gains.

By focusing on identifying and satisfying unmet consumer needs, brands can create lasting value and drive sustainable revenue growth. This requires pushing your thinking way outside of the box — often outside of your company. It means breaking free from the constraints of the status quo, and fostering a culture of challenging assumptions and learning what you don’t know. Only then can brands transcend the limitations of incremental renovations and chart a course toward meaningful innovation and market success that lasts.

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Contributor Info: Ted Curtin is the chief innovation officer at ProdigyWorks, a creative ideation and innovation lab with an exclusive global Mensa-based network of high-IQ thinkers, creative geniuses, and industry experts. ProdigyWorks pairs combinations of these outside thinkers to tackle product innovation and development, brand whitespace innovation, as well as product naming and futuring initiatives for a range of leading consumer brands. Curtin can be reached at [email protected]