Winning Innovation without Marketing support

Speaking to friends and contacts in the food industry, I sometimes hear it said that “our innovation project would have worked but it withered and died because it didn’t get the Marketing support required”. 

It surprises me how often these same people and companies are now working on a new and different innovation project.  If the idea last time was perfectly good, and the problem was the Marketing, why not just have another go but with the right Marketing this time?

But anyway, I think this is not the right way to think about innovation in 2015.  For all but the biggest FMCG companies, with the deepest pockets, the days when you’d expect to invest up to 50% of a launch’s first year sales in Marketing are long gone.  So it’s better now to adapt to the new reality, and ask the question “what would a launch need to look like, to succeed without Marketing support?”.

I’ve talked before about the importance of a crystal clear understanding of the consumption occasion, making sure your product is pitch perfect for that, and being clearly better than the incumbents.  But beyond that general principle, there are three more things to think about.

First, sensational product design.  Above all, consumers adopt food products because they taste great.  Not OK, not competitive, not whatever you can make, but genuinely great.  And then there is design more generally.  I worry that our generation is struggling to produce genius product design to compare with for instance the KitKat or the Mars bar.  I don’t know quite how such products were invented – it must I guess be about talent, patience and a “have a play” culture.

Second, singing out from the shelf.  If you haven’t spent a fortune telling consumers to look out for you in store, then you’d better work extra hard at being seen on the shelf.  Not everyone can light up in store like Old El Paso, but light up you must!  And beyond being seen, it must be super clear exactly what you are about as a product.  If you’re a posh jam made from the best fruit, that needs to be ultra-clear to the shopper instantly, via the whole body language of your product as well as your messaging on pack.

Third, the right promotional support.  There is a much better chance you will be bought for the first time if you are on deal.  But you don’t want to set an anchor price with the deal, which makes the full price seem a rip off in the future.  How to negotiate this tightrope?  A free trial (e.g. via online) is one way to side step the issue.  Another is to frame an initial promotion as an introductory price, reducing the anchor effect.

Get these three things right, and you’re a good way towards a launch that can prosper without Marketing support.  And paradoxically, such a launch may end up being one that your company will eventually invest behind.  If your product is good enough to survive without Marketing, it probably merits Marketing!  You may even be able to build up a war chest of profits from your initial sales to fund that Marketing.  Imagine that!  A launch that is not run at a deficit.  Peace breaks out with your Finance team!

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