R&D in the 'driver seat' and Marketing as a navigator for innovations
A frequently heard statement in the press is that marketing and innovation is more than an obvious combination. Based on the idea that everyone is aware of this by now, it is special to see how often an innovation initiative is launched without marketing being involved. Perhaps this situation has to do with a frequently occurring reflex from production development to have much more free rein in innovation. It can be quite annoying when marketing dismisses any idea as “unrealistic” or “”commercially unfeasible”. Then, if possible, you would rather not have those colleagues around. Isn't it wonderful to invent and realize something new without obstacles?
However, from the point of view of the company's interest, the absence of marketing is difficult to defend. The Innovation Team should not lack a direct line with the market. It is important in the brainstorming phase to listen to signals from the market (what needs arise, do we see trends emerging?) and to test each step in the process afterwards for feasibility in the market. This way you can estimate, together with more realism, what the chances are of a new food product to be developed. The challenge here is that this reality check must not lead to the dreamers running away from the Innovation Team through the back door. You need dreamers to think out of the box. We already have enough thinkers who think within the whitewashed lines. Monitoring the balance between reality and dream is therefore an important task for the management of any Innovation Team. We are probably all familiar with the idea of the Chinese to use buses on the crowded roads that drive over the traffic jam at the top. The idea was presented last year with a simulation film at the High-tech Expo in Beijing. If you look at the chosen form of this bus, you can wonder how realistic this idea is, but if you are stuck in that traffic jam every day, that idea can suddenly look very attractive and its feasibility comes a lot closer. It is precisely in the visionary coupled with real needs that product development and marketing should go hand in hand.
If a product or service from an innovation project achieves the intended success, that success is often explained more by marketing than by the brilliant idea. And not completely wrong. If you manage to reach the market in the right way (via advertising, via social media and/or target group messaging), this can greatly boost the sales of a new product. It is about the right choice of communication medium combined with the right message. The art of marketing is to stimulate a latent need in the consumer in such a way that it becomes an actual need. With this, a buyer takes action and proceeds to the purchase. Many products are subject to the “Me Too” law. This law explains the tendency of us humans to want to belong. We are real herd animals in it. If you see a lot of people in your area every day with the latest model of an Apple phone, you want one too. We call that the “me too” moment. Another example, closer to home and from the “own food market”, a few years ago we witnessed the rise of prosecco. Suddenly everyone wanted to drink prosecco on a hot summer day. As if other drinks no longer existed. Where does such an emerging need come from? Purely through an effective advertising campaign, followed by exemplary behavior of the early adopters. A nice example of marketing.
But what is the position of R&D in the average innovation trajectory? We are used to the fact that a good Innovation Team is made up of representatives from the width of the organization (in addition to R&D, production, logistics, technology and marketing). But what role is there for R&D?
I was recently on a company visit to Verstegen Spices in Rotterdam. And it was particularly interesting to hear how Verstegen merged the R&D department with marketing and sales. In the food world, we have the advantage that we can try to influence the taste of the consumer through well-timed actions. It is not news that there are trends and developments in the field of nutrition. And Verstegen influences the taste of our food in a very good and effective way. During the presentation it became clear that R&D spends a lot of time abroad looking for new flavors. Recent visits to countries such as Peru, Mexico and South Korea have yielded a wealth of new flavors (with accompanying spices). Those herbs were taken back to the Netherlands. However, you can't just introduce the taste of one country one-on-one to a country with completely different taste preferences. Just think how the Dutch Chinese restaurateurs prepared their dishes after the warhave adapted to the Dutch taste. The same applies to the taste of other exotic cuisines. Verstegen's R&D department has therefore developed new recipes together with top Dutch chefs that subtly incorporate the new flavors from Peru, Mexico and Korea. These recipes are served by Verstegen in its own kitchen to its own relations who are responsible for further distribution on the Dutch market. Marketing is emphatically involved in that presentation. The new dishes are prepared and served in a very attractive way in Verstegen's test kitchen. For example, Verstegen Spices tries to open the Dutch market for new herbs in an effective way and thus not only increase its market share, but also grow in absolute terms.
In our opinion, this is a very good example of how R&D is at the helm of innovation and steers the company in the right direction, while collaborating with marketing and sales in a very nice way. Isn't that a good example to follow?
If you would like to discuss further with us about how R&D can get more behind the wheel, please get in touch. We are happy to think along with you.