An Idea that Popped Up

The best innovations come from a deep understanding of the consumer.  Some companies assume that means focus groups—a first step in their innovation process is to ask consumers what they want from the product.  That rarely works, because, as Steve Jobs so adamantly preached—people don’t know what they want.  You often have to show them.  It’s not that they won’t tell you in focus groups; it’s that they can’t.

That’s why it’s so important to dig deep for consumer insights that will lead to successful product ideas.  That’s true for every category and every business.  Take microwave popcorn, for instance.  There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the category historically—flavors, low-fat, natural—the usual suspects in food.  And if you asked consumers, they would probably say that was fine.  On the other hand, the lack of really relevant news had contributed to a slowly declining category, as consumers shifted to new entries in adjacent categories, including ready-to-eat popcorn.

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A Clean Win

I started my career at Procter & Gamble in the Packaged Soap and Detergent division—laundry and dish soaps.  Even then, the crown jewel was Tide, which as a powdered detergent in a few scents still dominated the category.  Some things change.  Some remain the same.

The latest addition to the Tide brand behemoth is Tide Pods—a laundry detergent plus stain remover that you toss into your machine.  One load, one pack; whatever the temperature or load size.

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Passes the Sniff Test

Packaged goods companies have traditionally leveraged their brand equities by extending into new categories or segments.  When I was at Procter & Gamble, under then brand manage and future CEO A.G. Lafley, we extended Tide Powder into Tide Liquid, which transformed the category.  Since then, Tide has introduced countless line extensions—with bleach, with fabric softener, with Febreeze, etc.—in the midst of building a powerhouse brand franchise.  It’s a model of brand line extensions.

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Slam Dunkin’

Innovations are best when they address a strategic opportunity.  Enter the new Angus Steak & Egg Sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts.   You may have seen the ads lately, which strongly leverage the product’s angusness (geshundheit!). So let’s play one of my favorite mixer games, Two Truths and a Lie.  You decide.

1. Dunkin’ Donuts is known as a donut and coffee place, not for food. Introducing a mainstream product (breakfast sandwiches) with strong quality overtones (angus steak!) provides both news and credibility.

2. This is not the first steak and egg breakfast sandwich. Both McDonald’s and Subway have their own versions.

3. Angus means premium quality steak. The finest available on the market.

Yes, #3 is the lie.  Actually, “angus” is a brilliant marketing invention that has very little to do with quality.  It is, quite simply, a breed of cow, providing beef of approximately the same quality as other breeds.  However, as a result of presumptive advertising by QSR marketers it has become a symbol of quality beef to American consumers.  It is noteworthy that U.S. angus beef producers did establish a “Certified Angus Beef” program with  stringent quality standards.  However, unless accompanied by certifications, such as CAB, there is no significant quality promise associated with “angus.”

Why we love this innovation: Perception is reality.  And Angus Steak & Cheese sounds like a premium quality sandwich: not only steak but angus steak.   It’s a big enough draw, and sufficient news to pay out the advertising.  And it’s a strong move to build awareness and trial for Dunkin’ Donuts as a place for quality breakfasts on the go.  Well done (the innovation, not the steak).

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Honey, me and the boys are just going out for some Iced T

It shouldn’t have taken this long.  Looking through the prism of Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Sam Adam’s Twisted T success it should have been an automatic that brewers everywhere would start aggressively introducing beer/beverage combinations.   They have been a hit for some time in Canada (and Canadians take their beer very seriously).   And in the past few weeks I’ve seen at least five web ads for Smirnoff’s Southern Comfort Fiery Pepper, a similar if not smaller idea.

So Coors Iced T seems natural, almost inevitable, and perhaps even obvious.  In a declining category, you wonder why it’s just happening now.  But it’s coming soon to the U.S., and sooner to Canada.

No caffeine, which is an FDA issue.

Why we like this innovation: This is a vivid illustration of the simple but all-encompassing principle that all innovations are merely new combinations of old things.  It’s just a matter of finding out what combinations people want.  And given how big the beer market is, there are a lot of sizable niches that have yet to be explored.  It’s a category that has been crying for meaningful product innovation since light beer in the 70′s.  Look for a lot more of this kind of thing in the future.

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Drink Smart

All innovations are primarily combinations of older ideas.   That’s not as simple as it sounds.  The art of innovation lies in knowing which ideas to combine and in what ways.

Which brings us to the Neuro line of drinks.   Expensive flavored water drinks are nothing new.   There’s a shelf in every grocery store lined with them, all in sexy looking bottles that look destined for the MOFA. And nutraceutical beverages have also been in the market, in Vitamin Water, Sobe and even such mainstream brands as Crystal Light.

Despite this, the Neuro drinks come across as something very different, unique and interesting.  It’s the combination, and how it is executed.

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Good Karma

Ever wished you had a spam filter for snail mail?  Me too.    Receiving irrelevant and unwanted junkmail is not only irritating, it’s  an affront to my environmental sensibilities.  And while I do make the occasional effort to contact companies and ask off their catalog list, I’m not particularly diligent at it.

Now there’s a helper.  PaperKarma is a new cell phone app that asks you off the junkmail list with a click of your camera.    Available for iPhones and Androids, the software recognizes the sender from the photo, attaches your name and sends an electronic request to have you removed from the mailing list.

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Ten Times Better

Sometimes it’s so simple.

Watching football the past few weekends I was surprised at how intrigued I was at the Visa Card commercials advertising the chance to win a trip to the Super Bowl for you and TEN of your friends.   The ad was all about going to your friends and inviting them–well, actually, convincing them to do silly things to be deserving of it. Continue reading

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Something to Chew On

Thirty years ago there was only a handful of popular choices for gum.  The bright pink Bazooka Joe was the kids’ choice, a quick sugar rush, mad bubbles and a bite-sized comic.  On the other end of the spectrum was sugar-free Dentyne, which you looked forward to using on your first date (“get that just-brushed freshness”).  And the fat middle of the market was owned by Wrigley: Spearmint, Doublemint and the iconic Juicy Fruit.

Like most other categories, things are not so simple today, transformed by product proliferation.  Now you  can choose from the unusual: Wrigley’s Extra Apple Pie flavored gum (which tastes surprisingly good); the nutraceutical: Trident Vitality’s “Awaken,” with ginseng, or the hip: Stride’s ShaunWhite “Whitening.” Continue reading

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Simply Better

Sometimes it’s so simple.  Sometimes we take common everyday items for granted–assuming that they are what they are.  And sometimes all it needs is a little bit of thinking–how could this be better?

So it is with the rubber band.  Past innovations have been limited to various sizes and the occasional color.  Yawn.  But clearly, rubber bands have limitations.  They break easily.  They aren’t that strong.  And it’s a pain to try to get them around objects of certain shapes–like long posters, or stuff that is wide on the end, but skinny in the middle.

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