Innovation has always been a critical aspect of any business’s success, but it can be particularly challenging for legacy marketers to navigate in times of constraint. The emergence of shifting consumer trends, like the rise of Gen Z, has further amplified the need for exciting new products. Executives from Ford Motor Company and Edgewell Personal Care recently discussed the pressures of innovating under constrained environments and shared valuable insights on contingency planning and risk management.
The Impact of Constraints on Innovation
Camilla Medeiros, the Vice President of Global Innovation and Insights at Edgewell, highlighted the various constraints that marketers face when trying to bring new products to market. Pricing constraints, for instance, play a vital role in determining whether a product is worth launching. Additionally, meeting unique consumer needs can be a challenge in itself. However, Medeiros noted that these constraints have become more pronounced in recent years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced marketers to explore new avenues for innovation. Edgewell successfully introduced the concept of “dermaplaning” to the United States through its Schick Hydro Silk Touch-Up product. Dermaplaning, which involves using a small razor to remove hair and exfoliate skin, was popular in Asian countries like Korea. However, the pandemic led to increased interest in facial care, as people spent more time looking at their own faces on screens. By identifying this emerging trend, Edgewell was able to scale its innovation and meet the growing consumer demand.
Leveraging Emergent Media Channels
The rise of emergent media channels, such as TikTok, has both accelerated and strained the pace of research and development for marketers. TikTok-driven shopping trends have created opportunities for innovative product launches. A prime example is the success of Schick’s Hydro Silk Sugar Wax Roller, a product that was born out of the pandemic’s impact on salon closures. The product gained traction through entertaining and instructional TikTok videos, resulting in high demand and sold-out retail channels.
Jennifer Brace, the Chief Futurist at Ford, highlighted the lengthy development process in the automotive industry. It often takes years to go from concept to launching a vehicle, allowing ample time for research and minimizing risks associated with innovation. However, the ability to take risks and embrace failure varies across industries. Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, for instance, face different risks than car manufacturers due to the price and lifespan of their products.
Contingency Planning and Prioritization
Both Edgewell and Ford emphasized the importance of contingency planning and prioritization in the innovation process. Brace stressed the need for thinking years ahead and developing backup plans for unexpected turns. This necessitates not only plan B but also plan C and D to ensure flexibility and adaptability. Medeiros explained that Edgewell follows a “fewer, bigger, better” ethos when allocating its budget for advertising and promotional spend. The company must prioritize areas that will drive growth, taking into account the complex needs of retailers, consumers, and the market.
Navigating Disruption: Legacy Brands vs. Disruptors
Legacy marketers not only face constraints from external factors like the economy but also have to fend off disruptors in their industries. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) upstarts, such as Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club, have disrupted the male shaving segment and eroded market share for brands like Schick and Gillette. Similarly, Ford has had to accelerate its efforts in electric vehicles to compete with the growing popularity of Tesla.
Medeiros believes that legacy brands and DTCs have the potential to develop complementary relationships. While DTCs excel in digital business models that appeal to young consumers, they often struggle to break into brick-and-mortar retail. Edgewell’s acquisition of Billie, a women’s shaving line, exemplifies this approach. By acquiring DTC brands, legacy marketers can tap into their expertise while leveraging their own knowledge and connections to expand into different retail channels.
The Importance of Accepting Failure
A recurring theme in the discussion was the willingness to accept that not all innovative concepts will succeed. Failure is an inherent part of the innovation process, and the ability to embrace it is crucial for growth. However, Medeiros acknowledged that the level of risk tolerance varies across industries. CPG companies that regularly sell low-priced products have a different risk profile than car manufacturers. Nevertheless, both Edgewell and Ford emphasized the importance of rigorous research and development to minimize the chances of failure.
Preserving innovation in times of constraint requires careful planning, prioritization, and adaptability. Legacy marketers like Edgewell and Ford have demonstrated the importance of contingency planning, embracing emerging trends, and accepting failure as part of the innovation proc