Mars Chocolate's Sandler Delivers Innovation Best Practices For Marketers At ANA Creativity Conference

2011 ANA Creativity Conference[Cue the Star Trek music]  "Innovation, the final frontier..."

"Innovation" was the buzzword of the day as marketers and their creative team members came together in NYC for Day 2 of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Creativity Conference.

"Innovation" is a word that seems to get tossed around a lot lately - especially in digital. Creating new ideas which result in exciting new products appeared to define Mars Chocolate's Debra Sandler thoughts on innovation as she spelled out her Top 10 list on fostering it within marketing organizations.

Sandler is Chief Consumer Officer at Mars,  a role which reports into the head of the Americas for Mars and appears to be at the tip of the spear in creating new products. Chief Consumer Officer might equate to a Chief Product Officer.

At the start of her presentation, Sandler made clear the advantage that private companies have over public companies. Her previous experience at publicly-traded Johnson & Johnson and Pepsi informed the view as Mars is private.  Risk taking isn't for Wall Street!

And now, without further ado, her Top 10 list on Innovation best practices…

1. "Build a tribe"

No surprise here as great people are key for bubbling up and executing new ideas.  But, Sandler's point is that you need to support them too - and point them in a way such that it inspires them to take risks, but does not make them feel like they are putting their careers in jeopardy - otherwise they'll leave.  It's a balance.

2. "Support From Above"

She said "visible, senior-level support at the top of the house, ready to absorb a financial loss if it happens" is critical.  She pointed to her days at Pepsi when a new Pepsi product (Crystal Pepsi) failed.  The idea didn't work out -but the team was universally promoted as senior management bought into the risk and the execution, and now wanted to leverage the experience.

3. "Frame The Dilemma"

So beyond the challenges around using profit and loss, Sandler urged marketers who are looking to innovate to understand the difference between business problems and dilemmas.    And then ask "the big and dumb questions" which presumably give a more strategic view on why things are failing when they do.  And if you're going to understand things, the focus group is essential says Sandler.  She related a story to the audience about her work at Johnson and Johnson where she spent 6 months on focus groups for particular product lines - let alone her proclivity to visit stores and watch consumers in action. She said, "I love to sit and watch. What they pick up and put down... [as marketers,] spend the time and be curious about the consumer.  Those experiences form the foundation of "sustainable innovation."

4. "Learn by Doing"

Sandler said this one was for the R&D group and recommended doing things quickly.. rapid prototyping. But, marketers should make sure they play around with ideas - and then move on. She said, "The one thing about innovation is that time moves quickly and if you don't find the right idea, someone else will."

5. "Create The Right Environment"

This pertains to both physical and mental environments.  Sandler emphasized creating the right space and was impressed with her own agency's approach in terms of openness and no walls: "You literally need to break down the walls." She also said the right tools that foster collaboration are important.

Sandler added that innovation often is "birthed from a crisis"  as she believes crises foster a different level of innovation because you HAVE to find a solution. You have no choice. She called this "Light The Burning Platform."  If you don't have a crisis, an "end date" is one way to do it.

6. "A Good Idea Can Come From Anywhere"

At Mars, Sandler said they recently marketed a "big idea challenge" within the company.  Marketers need to keep themselves open to ideas and they can come from the people who may be in the company but not necessarily directly connected. She stressed that process plays a roll and identified it as "gut + data."

7. "A Great Idea Is A Good Idea Brilliantly Executed"  

So even though Pepsi may have beaten Coke in a taste test as part of a successful marketing promotion, little known RC Cola used to beat them both.  As a Pepsi marketer, she was glad RC Colas ever decided to execute on the idea that there soda was better because Pepsi would have lost.  Her point was that it was important to have the courage to execute "the right idea" which starts with research.

8.  "Failure"

Covered a bit earlier in the presentation, Sandler said again that if you aren't failing in innovation, you aren't pushing far enough. It's a requirement of success. Still, don't be crazy - take calculated business risks.

9. "Success is Essential"

Gear up the supply chain so you can meet the demand. She admitted that this is one of the challenges she has at Mars,  "You need to be prepared to pull all the reigns of the business mix to be successful."

10. "Joy is the Result of Success"

And then the marketer's paradigm.. creating products or services that touch people is "phenomenal."  Sandler said, "There's nothing like it, and when done well, it endures."

By John Ebbert

 

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