How winning innovators remain curious

What do Lady Gaga and Pokémon bring to innovating differently? Discover our findings from the most innovative brands and the 5 key themes to spark creative innovation.
26 October 2023
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Jamie Williams

Senior Director, Global Product & Solutions, Media, Kantar

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Dr Nicki

Head of Behavioural Science and Innovation Expertise, Kantar Insights, UK

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Every great innovator pays attention to the competition. This is evident when speaking to brand leaders about what makes innovation successful. Kantar recently caught up with our Outstanding Innovation Award winners to discuss their favourite innovations and any outside innovations they admired. These conversations along with our deep dives into our winners, helped us uncover 5 themes to spark innovation that all relate to staying curious about the competition. Oreo, one of our Outstanding Innovation winners, is a brand we call out as one for competitors to watch, due to their unique partnerships such as the one with Lady Gaga.

Outstanding Innovation

Kantar celebrated by awarding 15 brands across 5 distinct categories worldwide as leaders in the innovation space. We leveraged Kantar BrandZ data to find brands that used meaningful and different innovation to drive sustained growth in their categories. The award winners were all notable for their commitment to innovation and being adaptive to change. When we spoke to the award winners about their strategies, we were impressed with the theme of curiosity that emerged from the brands. We asked the brand leaders if any innovative new products outside of their own company had caught their eye. All the brand winners were not just willing, but eager to talk about innovation outside their own companies.

We noticed right away that one thing all our outstanding innovation winners have in common is a respect for strong innovation. Winning brands are curious and know that inspiration can come from many sources. If you are obsessed with always getting better, that means paying attention to innovation in other categories and their competitors, wherever they may come from. When testing new product ideas, it’s always important to compare results across the category. It’s equally important to test your ideas and iterate quickly building in consumer feedback. To help spark those initial ideas it may mean taking a broader look outside your category.

Fuelling the imagination

Brands can learn both from big global companies and small challenger brands that are embracing innovation and pushing boundaries. Outside innovation can fuel the imagination. It’s important as a leader in the space to stay humble and learn from others. Dove CMO Alessandro Manfredi embodies this spirit by recognising how impressed he is with another deodorant brand, Lume.  

"The type of innovation that I admire are the ones that change behaviour and create new segments. One innovation that is a brand called Lume in the US, it's an indie brand that is actually talking about deodorants all over the body. They're growing pretty nicely and I think they are starting to create that tipping point at which people start to change behaviour and use the deodorant in different parts of their body."

When we spoke with Katie Reed, VP Global Arla Brand, the dairy and milk products company, Katie mentioned "they believe innovating is key to the future of eating well." They were impressed with another food company, Yaar Bars. Katie said, "Innovation is not just a product but also brand, go to market and creating new categories. Yaar Bars have done this with a cool product that is healthy, creates a new category within snacking and have grown organically through strong, influencer-led branding.”

Outstanding innovation brand leaders are always aware of new trends. President, Global Coca-Cola Category Selman Careaga admitted he gets excited browsing the aisles looking at other categories. "I also want to look at what other companies are doing." Selman Careaga, Coca-Cola.

"When I'm shopping, I enjoy browsing the aisles to get a sense of what the marketplace looks like. I'm inspired by new developments in the confectionary category. Not only do we see innovations in different tastes and flavours, but they are also thinking about packs in new ways like experimenting with different shapes and sizes. We can learn a lot from products that challenge the status quo – they push us to think outside the box with our own product innovations." Selman Careaga, Coca-Cola.

As Selman mentions, innovating can take on many forms with innovation to packaging, to design, to new flavours and more. This is why it’s important to pay attention to the competition and how they may be leveraging these different pillars of innovation.

When we sat down with Eugenia Zalis, Global Head of Marketing and Brand, OREO, she mentioned taking inspiration from the alcoholic beverage category. Eugenia is impressed with how White Claws hard seltzer in the US "took the market by storm" by "tapping into a clear consumer need." They have consistently innovated with new flavours and grown the whole category.

Both of our award winners Coca-Cola and Oreo are often touted as sources of inspiration themselves. There are many parallels between the Oreo brand and the Coca-Cola brand. Both are legacy businesses with dedicated loyal consumers and they both continue to find new ways to delight their consumers.

Both brands are smart in the way they explore partnerships to tap into fan bases that represent subsegments of their buyers. Oreo recently had success launching branded partnerships with Lady Gaga and Pokémon. The Lady Gaga Oreos were a special edition of the cookie, that were a "Chromatica" collaboration, named after Lady Gaga’s album. The cookies were not the traditional black with white filling, they were a pink cookie with green filling and had unique images embossed on the cookies. The brand packaging was also updated bright pink with shiny features that attracted attention. They helped the brand stand out on the shelf and excite consumers. The Pokémon special edition Oreos also included updated packaging and embossments on the cookie. These fun updated features showcased the brand’s playful spirit.

Coca-Cola similarly has explored new flavours, packaging, and experiences with Coca-Cola Creations, which takes the iconic Coca-Cola brand and lends it to new expressions. Both brands know that everything has to relate to the core and stay true to the brand's values. For Oreo that is playfulness, for Coca-Cola that is refreshing people in both body and spirit.

5 themes to spark creative innovation

Overall, the brands we spoke to have these 5 themes in common:

  • Are curious within their category and beyond
  • Always worry about their category being disrupted
  • Appreciate the need to be innovative to drive their difference
  • Use trends and understanding but don’t blindly follow them – they blend them with human insight and strong brand understanding
  • Use all of this and outside inspiration to fuel their imagination

These brands are not afraid to be brave. Every good marketer should have a bank of good innovations up their sleeve and be willing to name inspirational products. Good marketers know it’s important to take that inspiration and use it to fuel creativity. Once you have those creative ideas, you have to iterate. This means being willing to test and learn and start the cycle all over again. Leveraging consumer feedback is key to making sure you stay true to your core brand values and relevant to your core consumers. As a marketer, next time you are out shopping, don’t be afraid to take a close look outside your category and look at the performance of your own and competitor brands in a category. Eyeing up the competition and using it as fuel for your imagination, can take your brand to the ‘Edge of glory’.

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