4 innovation imperatives from the experts

November 7, 2023

In the second part of our two-part blog series summarizing highlights from Advertising Week New York, we explore the question: where should you place your big bets? In a world of uncertainty and constraints, brands face the challenge of having to keep the innovation pipeline flowing while also navigating risk and the expense of taking new products to market. Our co-owner and CEO Meabh Quoirin explored this subject with two Foresight Factory clients: Jennifer Brace, Chief Futurist at Ford Motor Company, and Camilla Medeiros, Vice President Global Innovation and Insights from Edgewell Personal Care. Below are their top tips for making it work:

Think: Fewer, bigger, better 

For Camilla Medeiros, the key to navigating this tension is avoiding the trap of filling the gap. Her team is committed to the mantra “fewer, bigger, better”, which is all about focusing on the biggest priorities for the business that are going to make the most sense.  

“The words I think are pretty descriptive in terms of innovation,” she said. But they also apply to other aspects of the work, from marketing campaigns to how they think about their product portfolio. “Fewer, bigger, better drives productivity, it drives focus,” she said. “We really focus on what our big bets are for the year.” 

Camilla explained how commercial teams at Edgewell are often under mounting pressure from retailers, who want to see innovation solutions for all of their shopper needs without necessarily looking at the bigger picture. 

“And that’s where my team comes in to help, because the innovation and insights team that I oversee, we focus on two plus years out. And what we try to do is help to provide that path for the teams to understand what’s in the future that we can start to think about [in terms of]  conceptualizing and innovation, and then looking for ways to create scale.” 

Scale up from local trends

Creating scale isn’t always easy, however, and brands also need to ensure they’re meeting very disparate needs at the retailer, consumer and market level.  

For Edgewell, one way they have successfully navigated this challenge is by scaling up from local trends. For example, in the women’s personal care space, the company looked to Japan and South Korea, where dermaplaning was a popular method of hair removal.  

“That innovation didn’t exist here in the US up until a few years ago,” said Camilla. “We’ve been able to scale up based on a trend that we saw, and a consumer need that was starting to emerge in the US – especially with COVID and consumers looking at the camera on screen all the time at their face… And that’s really taken off.” 

Another way that Edgewell has found inspiration from local markets is in its sunscreen category. While roll-on sunscreens have been successful in Australia, they haven’t seen as much traction in the US. “But we figured out a way to tap into a unique unmet need in the US with kids,” she explained. “We’ve had a lot of success over that launch in the last couple of years. And then from there, we’ll scale it up.” 

Looking at new technologies as well as other manufacturers and categories can also provide innovation inspiration. Meanwhile, Meabh explored the idea that companies that innovate and perform well tend to make space in their portfolio for unusual, more diverse things that they can afford to take a risk on: “They don’t know how it’ll pan out, but they do that as part of their culture, as part of their way of thinking.” 

Innovation is an iterative cycle 

For Jennifer Brace’s team at Ford, the innovation pipeline has a long time horizon. In the world of automotive, it can take five to 10 years to take a product from conceptualization to realization. “So our teams, whether they like it or not, have to do some futuring about what’s going to be successful in the market by the time it gets to market,” she said.

Knowing this, they build out a vision of what the future could be, but then they consistently come back and check to make sure that their plans still make sense, treating innovation as a cyclical process. “I think it’s really important to keep coming back and double checking – does this plan still make sense? What new things have happened, what new trends or what new disruptors might be impacting it?” said Jennifer. “I think of it as a cycle, it’s an iterative cycle we’re constantly looking at.”

Embrace the stage gate process

Taking risks is par for the course when it comes to innovation. But different industries have to contend with different levels of risk. In automotive, for instance, slow-moving products and an extended planning process mean that new innovations don’t feel so risky once they actually get to market. 

Jennifer Brace explained: “By the time it hits the road, I would say it doesn’t feel like a risk usually, because it feels like we’ve done the research, and we feel confident that this product is going to be successful.” 

When it comes to FMCG, however, the story is different. For Camilla Medeiros’ team at Edgewell, which has a number of personal care brands in its portfolio, risk is an everyday reality. “We definitely take more risk I’m sure than you guys [at Ford] do, but we want to make sure it’s calculated,” she said.  

To achieve that, they utilize a stage gate process, with multiple review checkpoints throughout the project plan. “Early on is where there’s more of that uncertainty and a higher degree of potential for that idea to change over time, whether it’s consumer, category, retail or supply chain,” she said. At each stage gate, they get together as a cross-functional leadership team and make those tough decisions. “And then, as we get close to launch, our level of confidence increases, so that risk diminishes,” she said.  

“So risk, I think, is more palatable for us, and we kind of know that going in from the beginning. But it does start to diminish as we get to launch.” 

Does your brand need support aligning supply with real consumer demand? Are you prioritizing the ideas in your innovation pipeline that will truly pay off, both now and in the future? Our decision-making platform Collision helps you spot the opportunities no one else is seeing. Compare and contrast different audience segments to understand how to activate at a global and local level, and use our analytical AI tool to find those trends that will give you first-mover advantage. Talk to us today about how we can empower you to focus on commercially significant investments and opportunities.


Written by Content Team

The Content Team produces all the reports and articles that get published on our dynamic consumer trends intelligence platform, Collision. By tracking trends, monitoring signals of change across sectors and audiences, and working alongside our data team to digest and analyse our proprietary consumer research, they help leading global brands strengthen strategic relevance and gain a competitive edge.