Mars is creating an internal incubator unit, known as the New Venture Studio, to make sure it stays relevant and innovative in the way it creates and launches brands.
“It’s an internal incubator to make sure that we’re agile in the way that we’re launching brands or new initiatives, and that it’s not done in an old school manner. We have a test and learn approach to everything,” Mars EU digital brand and innovation leader, Anna Kouzovleva, told delegates to a recent conference.
The launch comes after the success of the company’s Launchpad open innovation platform, established in 2017, which allows all brand managers within the Mars group to submit a business case for testing and evaluation.
These challenges – typically in marketing or supply chain areas of the business – are submitted as briefs to a relevant expert, who matches them to suitable external resources including startups and specialist agencies. Mars works with agency Mediacom and accelerator Plug and Play to identify appropriate startups.
Over the past two years, Launchpad has led to 46 pilot schemes with startup companies around the world. Ten of the pilots have led to scalable outcomes.
Why Mars is making sustainability a business KPI“This means we have tested, learnt and our ROI has been positive, meaning that we can actually scale this across different brands and markets,” Kouzovleva told the audience at the Digital Food and Beverage 2020 conference.
“Although this may not mean a positive ROI for every single brand that takes on these learnings, what it does mean is that it’s a working programme and we’re willing to spend bigger budgets after the test and learn is completed.”
The findings of every Launchpad project are shared throughout the company, and are available for staff to study online. More than 1,500 Mars staff have been involved in the Launchpad process to-date and 250 startup partners have been sourced.
The company calculates that the project has generated more than $150m (£116m) in value in terms of insight from the test and learn process.
Projects have included a big piece of social data research with data-driven insights company Whispr, search behaviour targeting with search intelligence firm Captify and opinion collection and re-targeting with research specialist Opinary.
Mars has also collaborated with retailers including Walmart and Carrefour on projects to explore gifting and ‘retail-tainment’ business cases. Issues such as identifying customers more accurately, predicting future trends and anticipating stocking level problems are among the challenges tackled.
Learnings have resulted in ‘micro-gifting’ online campaigns for Mars brands including Skittles. Chocolate brand Snickers – which uses the tagline ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ – wanted to understand how people reacted to its ads at different points of the day, depending on their mood.
Launchpad proposed that the brand partner with Spotify to gauge consumer moods through the kinds of music streamed at different times of the day. The brand also tracked the use of ‘hungry’ emojis online and in Facebook chats to push ads depending on what consumers were texting to friends.
“It’s not a proven pilot yet, but it’s a pilot that will be pivoted, which means that we will adjust and retest in another market,” said Kouzovleva.
The group’s pet brands have also been targeting pet owners by finding out more about them and how they live.
In Mexico, a data analytics project has driven coupon campaigns that use gaming to drive trials of pet food brands. Mexico is a market where most pet owners feed their animals with scraps and leftovers. Gaming ads helped Mars to better understand and target shoppers. In essence, the more mobile games the pet owner played, the more coupons they received.
An Australian Malteasers campaign used a Pokemon Go-like mechanic that asked customers to ‘hunt’ virtual chocolate bunnies across the country. They were rewarded with prizes when they found them.
Part of the objective of Launchpad is to make sure that Mars is not just working on big media campaigns with large agencies, but that it is also understanding how it can generate more relevant content for consumers and find new ways to reach them, both on a bigger scale and with more targeted reach, Kouzovleva added.
A further 50 Launchpad pilot schemes have been lined up for 2020.