What L’Oréal, Britvic and Unilever can teach brands about innovation

While many companies try to innovate, they are often doomed to fail. But according to senior marketers at Unilever, Britvic and L’Oréal there are various steps brands can take to ensure their product makes it through the critical first two years – from taking a closer look at customer behaviour to having a wider purpose.

A report by research firm Nielsen analysed 8,500 FMCG launches in Europe since 2013. Of those, only 18 achieved “breakthrough innovation” success. To be classed a winner, product launches had to meet three criteria: deliver a new proposition, generate at least £10 million sales in their first year of trading and maintain at least 90% of their sales in the second year.

Of the products that managed to survive the first tumultuous years, many were rolled out by brands such as L’Oréal, Mondelez and Unilever. But it isn’t necessarily a big brand name that can help drive a successful launch, says Marcin Penconek, VP of Nielsen’s innovation practice in Europe.

“Breakthrough innovation is extremely rare but, despite perceptions among some, it’s neither random, nor down to luck, nor magic. There are clear patterns behind why consumers pull some products and not others into their lives.”

We speak to various brands to find out exactly what makes for an innovation winner.

1. The customer should always be at the heart

With any successful launch, customer insight remains key. As Penconek explains: “Successful innovators display empathy – they clearly identify the circumstance where consumers struggle or have unmet aspirations and innovate around these.”

One such brand that took this to heart was L’Oréal. In 2014, the beauty company launched Elvive Fibrology, a new hair care range aimed at making hair thicker. It decided to develop this product after conducting extensive consumer research.

“According to our research, 71% of women in the UK said they struggled with fine hair, that it lacks volume and refuses to hold style.  So our challenge was to develop a solution to all three of these issues,” Ben Beharrell, marketing director of L’Oréal Paris Haircare told Marketing Week.

“Elvive Fibrology contains a patented molecule called Filloxane which is designed to make hair thicker. It is based on technology that is commonly used within the automobile and glass industry to repair cracked windscreens. After 17 years of research, we found it was possible to develop the technology further and use it for cosmetic purposes.”

The product launch turned out to be a huge success. Beharrell claimed that when it launched, one shampoo was sold every five seconds in Boots, and more than 3 million consumers have bought a bottle so far.

“At L’Oréal, science and innovation is central to everything we do. As the world’s largest beauty company we must constantly innovate to develop new ways of meeting people’s beauty needs and desires and every year we deepen our understanding of consumer’s beauty behaviours.”

2. Play a long-term game

Britvic launched Squash’D under its Robinsons brand in 2014 after identifying a massive growth opportunity following changing consumer habits. It produced a new portable format so people could flavour their water on the go. And not without success – it generated over £11 million in sales in 2014.

While many brands are eager to get their innovation to market as soon as possible, this is often the wrong approach, says Jonathan Gatward, Britvic’s global category and capability director.

“Innovation can come in many different ways. Many organisations lose perspective on the external world as they have so many internal dynamics to manage, which tends to be focused on short-term performance.”

Jonathan Gatward, global category and capability director, Britvic

“With format innovation, it can take multiple years for a product to come to market so keeping rigour around brand strategy long-term is key. We discovered many ways of how not to package the product before we came across Squash’D. It was a long process of looking at different options,” he explains.

Going forward, Robinsons is determined to place innovation at the heart of the brand. Gatward concludes: “There is a lot of continual innovation within the soft drinks industry and for us it’s no different. Format innovation is really interesting for us, as it opens us up to more user occasions. We want to increase people’s consumptions of where and when they use the brand.”

Sure deoderant
Unilever-owned brand Sure launched ‘Compressed’ aerosols in 2013 in a bid to reduce its environmental footprint

3. Find a wider purpose

But innovation doesn’t have to be focused on driving instant sales. There could also be a wider aim like changing company perceptions – even by allowing competitors to adopt the same technology.

One brand that did this was Sure. The Unilever-owned deodorant brand launched ‘Compressed’ aerosols in 2013 as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan – the brand’s commitment to reduce its environmental footprint.

According to Unilever’s global VP Mariano Sampietro, it is the biggest sustainable innovation the aerosol category has seen in over 30 years. So far, over 16 million UK consumers have bought the new Compressed products.

He explains: “We identified the biggest areas where, as a category or brand, we had an impact on the environment and society. This turned out to be waste, and within waste, the biggest contributor was aluminium from cans.”

The new product contains 50% less gas and 25% less aluminium. The technology was applied to all Unilever deodorant brands and Unilever isn’t seeking to protect their innovation but to share it as wide as possible with other manufacturers.

“We’ve published a guide on how to make a compressed deodorant, which includes both marketing and supply chain learnings, because we truly believe that we can do more for the environment if we all work together,” adds Heidi Williams, Sure & Compressed marketing manager at Unilever UK.

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