Originally published on LinkedIn by Rafael Narvaez, Global Chief Marketing and Research & Development Officer of Mars Food.
In this blog series on Innovation at Mars, my fellow Associates and I share what that journey looks like across the Mars business, the lessons we’ve learned along the way — and which ones are worth repeating for tomorrow. Here’s my view on the value of data-driven decisions to grow and innovate at speed.
First and foremost, I’m a firm believer that great innovation starts — and ends — with excellent data. Data can help predict the future, signaling consumers’ evolving needs, behaviors and emotions, particularly at points-of-purchase, allowing you as a brand or retailer to pivot accordingly.
Today, innovation is harder than ever, with a success rate of fast-moving consumer goods at less than 17%. Fortunately, excellent data can improve the odds of successful innovation, which is why investing in and leveraging better, faster data is critical.
Though, too often, leaders make mistakes when leveraging data to innovate. For example:
- They’re asking consumers what they want rather than measuring what they do. Modern technology allows us to track consumer behavior which is much more useful than claims.
- Data without context: Without understanding the reason behind consumer behavior, you can’t address their pain points.
- Tracking trends through traditional channels — like when a new product hits retail shelves — instead of using data to identify emerging opportunities.
- Failing to front-load success factors: Best-in-class execution relies on knowing what wins look like, both at point-of-sale and in-home.
- Forgetting to use failure as a learning opportunity: Ruthlessly tracking innovation performance and improving launch diagnostics to avoid repeat mistakes is key.
Shifting how you leverage your data for innovation can not only save you from the pitfall “wrong place, wrong price,” but also allow you to have a first-mover advantage. There are also several ways to accelerate using data to inform and drive innovation:
- Create a cross-functional data action plan to ask the right questions, avoid silos and drive impact.
- Democratize your data so your team can become more data-savvy and consumer-centric; this requires guardrails to ensure fast activation and broad, efficient usage.
- Experiment: Articulate everything that needs to be true for the model to work, then experiment to get the data to validate the hypothesis.
At Mars, our own innovation data and insights engine puts the consumer at the heart of all future platforms of growth, by focusing on three areas of value:
- Human — identifying the consumer pain point, then creating optimal value propositions to solve it delivered through our Foresight Factory, always-on consumption tool understanding and leveraging product and brand-consumer reviews.
- Commercial — simulating business model data from the start to ensure mutual benefit to the business and consumer.
- Societal — using data to understand issues including carbon footprint modeling and farmer income calculations, among others.
Even during COVID-19, Mars Food has continued to innovate — which wouldn’t have been as effective without solid data. We even conducted a 100% virtual incubator week, using data from thousands of consumers to develop concepts to help transform our business. We also launched the first recyclable mono-polypropylene plastic microwavable rice pouch in the U.K., a huge step forward in The Mars Sustainable in a Generation plan.
To sum it up, true innovation allows you to lead the pack, and leveraging data gets you there faster. Investing in faster, better data isn’t just a smart business move — it’s essential for any business aiming to grow and innovate at speed.
Rafael is responsible for Mars Food brands including Ben’s Original™, Dolmio®, Masterfoods®, Seeds of Change™, and Tasty Bite®. Prior to Mars, he spent 22 years leading the marketing agenda for multiple food and beverage segments for PepsiCo.