Innovation is a tough gig these days – but it’s not for the lack of ideas

September 27, 2023

Competition and cutting room floors

Who remembers when Disney not only had to contend with the birth of Dreamworks – a new major studio with all the creative capability to tear down their ivory animation tower, but also ‘Antz’? The new studio’s inaugural movie was released within weeks of Disney’s ‘A Bug’s Life’. One has to wonder how many heads rolled for that one. But it happens all the time – the movie calendar is pressured, the production times from idea to release are long and the best ideas are always going to get copied. As it happened, both movies did well and neither studio has a problem with creative ideas that deliver. But the stakes for white space get higher with every year that passes.

I’ve been pondering this territory as we prepare to take the stage at Advertising Week in New York on the thorny issue of ‘Innovation in a world of constraint’ and early conversations with my esteemed client guests have been fascinating already. I was struck when Camilla Medeiros (Vice President of Global Innovation and Insights, Edgewell Personal Care), shared that one of the biggest issues and risks they face as a business is killing ideas fast enough. Their internal culture of innovation has really propelled success, but the challenge today is tempering the need to drive revenue with ideas that are sustainable and scalable. And the emphasis has shifted – ‘avoid the trap of filling the gap’ was the neat summation Camilla put to me. But how does a business pivot to ‘fewer, bigger, better’ as per the new Edgewell innovation mantra?

Innovation mantras

I’d posit 3 points;

-Pace is secondary to space

-Services over stuff

-Unmet needs vs. engineering

We all know that speed is of the essence for market share, brand strength and TSR. But the risks of rushing are rising given the accelerating pace of global innovation. It is impossible to track every competitor move, not least as that might be coming from adjacencies and the volume of country or segment led preferences driving product releases are greater than ever before.

We also know that margins are under insane pressure, between supply chain disruption, inflation and rising sustainability commitments. So, no surprise that we see every sector lurch towards the promised land of services whether they’re in the business of selling cars, razors, or burgers. One has to wonder how quickly the market will saturate for the never-ending onslaught of subscription propositions but for now it is clear that from concierge experiences through to bundled tech add-ons, services is a promised land worth venturing into as the aspirational values of lighter living continue to transform demand away from stuff and into experiences. Virtually 1 in 2 global consumers say they now ‘only buy products they really need’ (source: Foresight Factory).

Plus, there’s no question that best-in-class design will provide the right financial springboard for your innovation. But again, how do you know if it’s engineering that consumers will deem worth paying for. Premium is under pressure when it comes to just the functional output.

All reasons why our current innovation at Foresight Factory focuses on a simple proposition. Map what the consumer needs now, to the trends driving their demands tomorrow, to the genuine gaps in the marketplace. Knowing which demand territories (through trends in all sectors, countries, and consumer groups) are driving innovation outputs in real-time, not just from your competitors is a pretty good place to start. And so, we built our AI to deliver just that in our decision making platform Collision.

As Camilla reminded me – it’s so much more expensive to bring an idea to market, or even close to launch where the business case is not crystal clear than to kill it early and move on.

Stretch & challenge

An obvious point but one that bears repeating that even if your innovation makes it beyond the cutting room floor you’re still just getting started. Jen Brace (Chief Futurist, Ford Motor Company) talked to me about the ‘What If’ culture they use to make sure only the strongest ideas survive. Her team of futurists must ensure that Ford are building cars that will meet future demand, not current. As such the first order of service internally she tells me is to help people adjust to a future that we cannot predict but can prepare for. To which I can only but nod furiously. Interestingly she calls her team the ‘Polite Contrarians’ – those in charge of the plan B. In short, even when there’s a brilliant idea in production – there are all sorts of uncertainties to manage and considering all of it, preparing for the challenges that may not even happen, is vital. At Foresight Factory, we certainly see Scenario Planning as a discipline back on trend and interestingly where once this was the preserve of sectors with slower innovation cycles – such as energy or automotive – it’s increasingly becoming a strategic imperative in fast paced marketplaces too, such as food and beauty.

It seems to me that innovation know-how is undergoing its own reinvention, increasingly blended with foresight and AI intelligence, as well as new stretch and challenge techniques. I can’t wait to unpick more of what that contains when we get together on October 19thJoin us if you can!

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Written by Meabh Quoirin

Meabh Quoirin is the CEO and Co-Owner of Foresight Factory. She is also a LinkedIn Influencer and one of their nominated Top Voices. Meabh’s expertise lies in interpreting behaviours and signals to uncover what matters most to consumers today and tomorrow. A bi-lingual and experienced public speaker, Meabh is a key voice in the world of foresights and analytics. Meabh is a guest lecturer at Dublin University, sits on the Advisory Board of Advertising Week and regularly speaks at high profile industry events such as Ted X.

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