I wish I knew then what I know now!

I wish I knew then what I know now!

After over 15 years in FMCG working on both retailer and client/manufacturer side I recently took the plunge to the dark side by going consultancy/agency side with KICR Innovation! What have I learnt on the other side of the fence I hear you cry (at least I do in my head! 😂) and what pearls of retrospective wisdom can I impart?! Well…(rolls sleeves up)

Thankfully I’ve always been a firm believer in strong client and agency relationships and working in a collaborative, hand in glove way. Agencies regardless of their discipline are an integral cog for scale brands and businesses so for me it’s always made sense to harness and build these relationships through trust, respect, accountability and of course having fun. As David Ogilvy said “when people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.”. You’ve got to be motivated and enjoy what you’re doing, and that goes for both client and agency.

This was one of the reasons I was curious about making the switch, to harness my experience and perspective of working on client/manufacturing side overlaid with my retail grounding and of course to explore something new. As good old Albert Einstein who knew a thing or two said “once you stop learning you start dying!”

As someone who has been close to God knows how many research projects over the years from simple pack development to TV ad testing right through to huge strategic U&A deep dives it’s always played a pivotal role in my brand and innovation roles. Bringing new products to market and testing propositions, uncovering insights and shaping concepts from theory to tangible products on shelf and in your homes and bellies.

With the sheer level of brands and categories I worked across budgets couldn’t realistically stretch to be able to consistently sense check and test throughout the entire process as well as exploring wider, macro subjects such as sustainability or general customer behaviours for example.

Often research could become quite piece meal due to the different elements requiring analysis, whether it be sensory/taste, packaging design, on shelf/merchandising, sustainability, in home usage, consumer segmentation, U&A exploration and the list goes on. Having to constantly brief the same thing, differing levels of agency awareness and immersion with your business and brands, the co-ordination of multi-agency reviews and debriefs could quickly become a complex and exhausting process.

Then in innovation especially it is a constantly evolving and fluid process as you move through the development stages and of course everyone’s favourite, the ever ubiquitous and harbinger of creativity: The stage gate process!

Take pack design for example there can be several rounds of testing as you develop the product, the proposition and claims, along with any visuals and photography. Of course budgets don’t always allow this and this is just an singular element on one product/range, on one brand, potentially in one category. For businesses with houses of brands across multiple categories this can quickly become an expensive and convoluted minefield that is difficult to juggle.

In my time at KICR through our dedicated and integrated partnership with Princes Foods (tag Princes) where we offer consultative support across projects alongside an always on, genuinely end to end consumer community of 3,000 I’ve been blown away! The power of this resource and being able to go to the consumer well to test anything from the banal to the massive hairy arsed strategic head in hands challenges and long term planning is significant and I applaud Princes for the vision and bravery of this approach. (not just because I’m working for them either you cynic! I’ve always admired business who take pioneering approaches to NPD like Diageo’s Collaboration Center, P&G Ventures or as an ex Arla dairy devotee Friesland Campina’s awesome Milkubator as well as Arla’s Innovation Centre)

Want to know whether gluten free is a relevant on pack claim? No problem, let your consumers tell you rather than gut feel (sorry!). Likewise, if you’re wanting to understand a new category, or temperature band or do a category strategy refresh or U&A segmentation, (# any of these definitions?) then equally no problem. The same for pack designs and claims, I think you’re getting it. Basically anything! The breadth and depth has been jaw dropping!

As an experienced innovation manager, I was jealous of this always on resource! From testing hypotheses, uncovering insights and initial concepts up front; right through to iterative testing throughout the process, even through to post launch feedback and reviews, or in home usage and testing of prototypes and packaging through the community, it was like an innovation Christmas wish list!

This integrated consistency is such a powerful tool, especially as KICR works as an extended part of the Princes Innov8 team so we are immersed in the wider business and brands with a genuine understanding of the categories, the strategies, ambitions and brands. This helps super charge the innovation process with genuine agility. Not bound by one brief on a single project. As mentioned it is totally iterative and fluid to marry up with the evolutionary innovation process already discussed. It’s been a pleasure so far to work with and support the brilliant Innov8 team at Princes. (tag some of the guys?)

Anyway, that’s enough of my excitable drivel though, (anyone who knows me, knows brevity is not one of my main strengths!) I’ll let our client Alan Eriksen the Princes Marketing Director expertly sum it up in a concise way with his great quote-

“Innov8 by Princes, and the KICR partnership, delivers strategic food and beverage blue sky innovation. It is an industry first initiative and has redefined how we approach innovation and new product development. It amplifies the voice of consumers, who sit right at the heart of all the NPD decisions we take.”

Written by:

Finn McConway
Innovation Consultant
Kicr Innovation