The importance of product innovation
From supply chain shortages to sustained inflationary pressures, CPG manufacturers have faced a relentless wave of crises since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Understandably, these headwinds have had a significant impact on the number of innovations, which fell by 19% from 2019 to 2021.
Yet, innovation is still an important driver of growth—and our present challenges make it more critical than ever. In fact, our research shows that manufacturers who had a positive change in innovation launches between January 2019 and January 2022 increased their TDPs by 9% on average, whereas those who had a negative change in innovation launches lost TDPs by 7%, on average. Similar patterns emerged when looking at dollar share, as the majority of innovators grew (+9% on average) and non-innovators lost (–11% on average) share.
In short: Innovators maintain relevance with retailers and shoppers.
What is Breakthrough Innovation?
Our present circumstances mean that every stand-out innovation should be celebrated. Each year, during our annual Breakthrough Innovation Awards, NielsenIQ BASES recognizes some of the best new products from around the globe: innovations that reshaped their categories, broke through the clutter, and achieved success. Navigating these market-driven challenges, our 36 North American winners—who will be announced live on October 26 (register here)—were able to achieve over $3.35 billion in Year 1 sales, our highest total to date.
But what drives innovation success?
Outside of changing category dynamics, the broader marketplace and world we live in has evolved: more private label competition, the rise of digital media, enabling more and different ways to interact with consumers, and the rise of e-commerce, among other factors. These ever-evolving dynamics demand a variety of innovation strategies, meaning there are many paths to breakthrough success.
Some products disrupt their categories and grow their brands (Superstars), whereas others are small, strategic wins that are not intended to appeal to the mass market (Targeted Plays). There are still others that transform their categories by offering innovative benefits before they were mainstream (Emerging Plays), and those that are executed as quick hits to drive excitement among consumers and new news for the brand (Short-Term Plays).
Activating to succeed
But relying solely on a strong initiative and product isn’t enough. Although these elements are core to success, it’s equally essential to tailor your go-to-market (GTM) strategy to maximize your innovation’s potential. Successful innovators consider their launch plan from all angles, including the initiative itself, the portfolio (if existing), the consumer, the retailer, and its category.
Let’s take a look at some of the key considerations for a successful activation.
Compelling message, competitive advantage
While great media planning is important for getting messages to intended targets, ~50% of ad ROI is driven by creative quality, according to Nielsen Catalina Solutions—a bigger impact than targeting, reach and brand combined. Great communication is also a media multiplier, having as much as a 200%+ effect on a media buy’s impact.
Regardless of the proposition, great communication should accomplish four goals, but may take different pathways to get there:
- Compels behavior and/or desired outcome
- Activates, strengthens, or establishes new brand associations
- Engages the audience and makes a connection
- Implicitly or explicitly conveys creative intent
Consumers cannot buy what they cannot find
Your distribution will have a near-linear impact on volume opportunity, so your strategy should focus on maximum reach for the initiative. At the same time, it’s also important to be realistic about your expectations: For example, a targeted initiative may benefit from more strategic distribution to reach your key audience.
Consider these other best practices when developing your distribution strategy:
Provide a compelling sell-in story to retailers. Amid supply chain and economic woes, retailers have grown more selective. To win distribution, you’ll need to show the value of your innovation both for the consumer—and the retailer. Demonstrate how the new product fits within the current category portfolio, what benefit it brings to the table and the support you’ll put behind it to make it a success.
Be findable. For in-store presence, ensure that your physical product is visible and obvious to consumers via an intuitive store location. For eCommerce, this means linking your search terms with consumer expectations and aiming for a strong launch to achieve top search results placement.
Stand out. According to NIQ BASES research, 71% of shoppers claim to have purchased a new product based on its packaging. Leverage strong package design to interrupt consumers’ autopilot approach to shopping—you want them to notice something new and to understand what is better or different about your new product.
Amplify awareness. Point-of-sale activation and other in-store tactics offer opportunities to make a splash and engage with or educate the consumer.
Above all, a successful distribution strategy doesn’t stop at launch. The ability to remain agile and engaged is essential to supporting your innovation for the long term.
Assortment and pricing can optimize opportunity at the shelf
According to NIQ BASES research, one in four new product launches has the unfortunate side effect of shrinking the brand franchise. Getting the most out of an innovation requires launching the right line-up to maximize the initiative’s reach, as well as optimally sizing and pricing the item in a way that maximizes sales without leaving money on the table.
These kinds of price/pack architecture decisions are not only critical in maximizing profit but can also be the key to successful retail sell-in. An optimized pricing and portfolio strategy can increase consumer relevance, drive favorable price and value perceptions and unlock incremental revenue and profits, among other benefits.
Beyond the launch
Keep in mind that activation is a critical consideration beyond the launch to enable ongoing success and sustainability. Because trial has the potential to build in Year 2 and beyond, maintaining or growing distribution, advertising support and promotion is a hallmark of successful activation—and critical to endurance. Likewise, ongoing monitoring of your messaging, pack, product benefits, and consumer and category dynamics is essential—as is the ability to act quickly should adjustments be necessary.
Celebrating Standout Innovation
As inflationary pressures and supply chain headaches persist, keeping your brand fresh through innovation is more critical than ever—but so is the need to be intentional and strategic with your portfolio. Our 2022 Breakthrough Innovation Award winners not only leveraged the best practices listed here but did so during an extremely challenging time, exemplifying stand-out execution to drive growth and address consumer needs.
We invite you to attend our upcoming webinar, where we’ll announce our North American winners and dive into inspiring examples of breakthrough success.