Innovation is often said to be the lifeblood of smaller brands breaking into the marketplace – providing purpose for their being and a point of differentiation. However, the giants of the CPG world must also play in this sandbox from time to time to both attract new users into their franchise for long-term brand growth and create energy and excitement around their lines to help keep existing and loyal customers in the fold.
Unlike the challenges of limited retail distribution and low consumer awareness confronted by smaller brands when launching new products, big brands face a different hurdle in that they must be careful to ensure any innovation they bring forth does not stray too far from the equity they have built and own.
Innovation that makes a lasting impression.
Back in 1985, Coca-Cola introduced ‘New Coke,’ the company’s response to dwindling sales of its flagship product. Originally designed to be a better tasting product, ‘New Coke’ veered too much from the flavor profile that customers had come to know and love for decades. The novelty of trying it came and went, consumers rejected it and sales plummeted. Within a few months, store shelves were once again stocked with the original formula, now dubbed ‘Coca-Cola Classic.’ Considered a marketing blunder by some, others have said it was a stroke of genius because it ignited sales of the old favorite.
Fast forward roughly 40 years and we see Coca-Cola once again being insurgent. Earlier this year the company debuted its Creations Series to attract younger consumers into the Coke franchise. Once again, the company had been experiencing sales declines for its core soda business, as consumption has shifted toward alternative beverage choices like iced tea products and more recently, flavored and energy waters. Coke recognized it needed to restore its mothership brand with a forward-thinking strategy. What they unleashed with the Creations Series is a digitally enabled innovation platform built around a 6-month long cascade of mystery, flavor and virtual experiences that has successfully engaged younger consumers with the brand. Experiential and incredibly unique, Coke hit pay-dirt with this campaign – driving sales and creating a lasting impression with these young consumers that ‘Coke is cool.’
Innovation for the good.
Out of necessity for gaining consumer and retailer attention, smaller brands often introduce more innovative products than do big brands. Conversely, big CPG brands tend to play it a bit safer on the innovation front, despite having the research budgets to develop and muscle to successfully launch such products on a grand scale. The best of both worlds came into being with the introduction of Inclusive, by Degree – an innovative new deodorant product for people with disabilities recently launched by Unilever.
Through its Positive Beauty Initiative, devoted to promoting body positivity and redefining beauty and normalcy, Unilever identified an unmet personal care need confronting the 15% of the world’s population who live with an upper extremity or visual impairment disability. It found these individuals were often avoiding physical activity of any kind out of desire to not sweat – doing so because of the absence of any deodorant products for which they have the physical capability of applying. Engaging the support of occupational therapists and engineers around the globe, as well as those living with these disabilities, Uniliver developed and unleashed Inclusive specifically with this community in mind – providing them with better quality of life. Not only did Unilver grow their consumer base with this innovation, but they elevated the value of their brand equity in the process. Not surprising, Inclusive was listed as one of Fast Company’s most innovative brands of the year.
Making the Most of Innovation.
It has become more commonplace for big brands to simply acquire innovative smaller brands to infuse life and added sales into their portfolio. However, as Coca-Cola and Unilever recently demonstrated, when big brands do come to the table with new product ideas rooted in consumer-centric strategy and supported by the right tactics to forge relationships with customers, they tend to deliver like no others – further binding us to them in the process.