Archive for the Tag 'P&G'

P&G on the Benefits of Open Innovation #WIF11

Point: Open innovation is much more cost-effective than internal R&D

Story: Larry Huston, formerly Innovation Officer at Procter & Gamble, spoke at the World Innovation Forum on June 8, 2011. Huston praised open innovation as a way for big companies to speed their innovation and time to market.  Huston said that open innovation efforts give companies a 2x return compared to developing the innovation in-house because of risk reduction.  The reason, Huston said, is simple: the technology is already proven to work; it just needs to be scaled or adapted. In short, with open innovation a new technology has a much lower risk of failure than starting internal R&D from scratch. Also, given the realities of corporate life, internal R&D people aren’t just doing innovation all the time — they have administrative work and meetings — which means that internal innovation is much less efficient than open innovation.

Huston related the story of an internal P&G employee who had the idea of printing text and designs on Pringles potato chips — designs like Disney characters or trivia questions. The employee made a very thin potato dough and ran it through an HP printer to demonstrate the idea.  But P&G needed edible food dyes that wouldn’t clog the printer or a printing technology that could handle edible food dyes.

So P&G approached a big printer manufacturer to work together with P&G to come up with a way to print on potato chips. The two big companies spent a year in meetings trying to hammer out the intellectual property (IP) rights issue. The printer company wanted all the IP, even though the two companies would be developing it together. P&G even offered to give the partner the patents if P&G could own only the one application of printing on potato chips. If the partner company then wanted to sell the technology to McDonald’s to print on hamburgers, they could. But still the other company did not agree to those IP terms.

Exasperated by the slow pace of the negotiations, P&G wrote a public brief describing the technical problem to be solved and sent it out worldwide. An innovation network in Europe picked it up, and the brief landed on the desk of a professor in Bologna. The professor, as it turns out, had inherited a bakery. He had dabbled with the equipment and created and edible food dye that could be printed on cakes and cookies.  P&G licensed the IP from him and launched Pringles Prints in eight months, compared to spending one year just discussing IP with the large company.  Within one year, the new product grew P&G’s revenues 14% — a very impressive result given the size of P&G.

Publicizing its R&D needs was a big change for P&G.  In the past, P&G kept its R&D efforts closely guarded. “We were afraid to share our technology needs,” Huston said.  “We thought competitors would read our briefs and launch their product first. But not once did that happen, out of hundreds of briefs”  The reality, Huston said, was “Companies work on what they think the problems are.  Reading a brief, they don’t see the end product, and they’re not likely to reorient their efforts as a result.  Once they see the product in the market, then they’ll respond.” Instead, Huston advocated, “let the world know what you want and that your door is open to ideas from the outside.” In response to a question from the audience, Huston elaborated: “Half of our briefs have our name on them, and those get many more responses.  Other briefs do not have our name.” Those briefs couch the request in more scientific terms, solving the underlying problem rather than explaining the consumer product application.


  • Don’t be afraid to advertise your R&D needs in order to attract outside innovators. Competitors are unlikely to reorient their own thinking to follow you.
  • If you’re still concerned about competitors taking your nascent idea, don’t put your company name on the brief, and phrase it in terms of the underlying science to be solved
  • Look for smaller, nimble open innovation partners with early-stage prototype technologies.
  • Innovate faster by leveraging proven technologies created by third parties.
  • Focus on lower-risk adaptation and scaling of existing external technologies rather than high-risk creation and scaling of unknown internal technologies.

For more information: World Innovation Forum

1 Comment »Case study, Growth, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, open innovation

AG Lafley, Jim Collins, Al Gore: First Step in Innovation (World Business Forum #wbf10)

Point: Admitting ignorance is a crucial first step to building strong knowledge that leads to innovation.

Story: Many of the 2010 World Business Forum presenters spoke authoritatively about what we know about business and economies.  But Steven Levitt (author of Freakonomics and Super-freakonomics) highlighted a systemic blindside in what businesses and leaders know.  In his discussions with companies, Levitt found that business people fear saying, “I don’t know.”  Such an admission seems to them like a reputation-damaging weakness in the eyes of their coworkers, bosses, shareholders, and customers.

Yet being unwilling to admit ignorance carries at least three types of stiff penalties.  First, the arrogance of presumed omniscience leads to hubris, which is the first stage of downfall, according to research by Jim Collins, author of bestsellers Good To Great and How the Mighty Fall.

Second, by not admitting ignorance, companies underinvest in gathering and creating knowledge. If we claim to already know something (e.g., “we know our customers”), then why invest in gathering more knowledge about them?  Third, and ultimately, willful ignorance are leads to mistaken decisions and failed innovation.  No wonder 90% of new product launches fail, according to data cited by Martin Lindstrom (author of Buyology).

Admitting ignorance need not signal weakness.  Saying “I don’t know” isn’t the same as saying “I can’t know.” A number of the presenters described four concrete ways of reducing ignorance.

First, A.G. Lafley (former CEO of P&G) stressed the value of reducing ignorance about customers simply by listening to them and watching them as they naturally interact with the company’s products.  P&G spends a lot of time and money trying to understand the two moments of truth — when the customer chooses products in the store and when the customer uses products in the home.  Even as CEO, Lafley made a point to visiting ordinary consumers and stores when he traveled.  These visits demonstrated to all P&G employees the importance of learning more about customers from the customers themselves.  The point is the listen more and go out in the real world — admitting (and resolving) ignorance about how customers really use products and services.  Charlene Li, author of Open Leadership and Groundswell, likewise stressed this point and cited the new-found power of social media to let companies hear what real people are saying about the company (see previous post: Getting CEOs on Board with Social Media).

Second, Martin Lindstrom showed exciting new tools such as fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and SST (Steady State Topography) that can trace the activity of the subconscious parts of the brain.  With these tools, innovators and other business researchers can answer previously unanswerable questions about people’s innermost reactions to brands, products, and sensory cues associated with new or existing ideas.  With these tools, Buyology researchers can show how just the red color of a Marlboro cigarettes pack or the angular shape of a McDonald’s restaurant roof triggers a reaction in consumers.  These new technologies help business resolve age-old ignorances about why people really buy.

Al Gore (former Vice President of the US and Nobel Peace Prize-winning creator of An Inconvenient Truth) gave an impassioned plea for responding to global warming before more dire effects take hold of the planet.  His presentation illustrates a third tool for reducing ignorance: developing deep models to estimate the direct and indirect effects of various phenomena.  For example, climate models help predict the ongoing rise of humidity and the concomitant rise in the severity of storms such as those that caused this year’s floods in places like Nashville and Pakistan.

Modeling does come with risks.  Levitt criticized prevailing economic models for focusing too much on what was mathematically easy rather than what was relevant to real economies.  People need to validate the model by showing, for example, that the last 60 years of temperature increases track the increase predicted by climate models.  Good modeling helps people reduce ignorance about what might happen without the full costs of making it happen.

Finally, testing represents the natural culmination of the other ignorance-reducing tools:  will an innovation or new idea really work? Levitt recommended doing more experiments — testing the effects of changing the price, changing the advertising, changing the product features, and so on. Levitt also suggested leveraging accidental tests.  For example, when an intern at a consumer electronics company forgot to submit newspaper ads for three months in one local market, the company discovered that the lack of newspaper advertising had caused no corresponding drop on sales.  Lafley likewise encouraged managers to test new ideas, even if they couldn’t get permission beforehand. Resolving ignorance is too important to be stymied by bureaucracy. Moreover, testing need not be expensive these days. A.G. Lafley noted how much easier it is to test new packaging and merchandising innovations in a computer-based virtual 3-D simulation. P&G can create an accurate 3-D model of a consumer’s favorite retailer and graphically add and test new designs. Changing the color, shape, size, graphics, etc., only takes the click of button. Cost is no longer an excuse for ignorance.


  • Admit ignorance and document what you don’t know but would like to know.
  • Watch and listen by going out to customers and the world to glean potential insights and innovations.
  • Use new data collection technologies to answer previously unanswerable questions.
  • Build models to predict the impact of innovations and other changes in products, processes, and business.
  • Test innovation hypotheses via various methods such as virtually, in test labs, or in select markets.

1 Comment »Case study, CEO, How-to, Innovation, Uncategorized

Saachi & Saachi CEO on Creating Loyalty During Recession

Point: Tough economic times call for different brand messaging

Story: We’re in a time of new frugality, said Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saachi & Saachi, at a recent HSM webinar. People are evaluating their purchases more closely. They’re comparing more products and contemplating switching brands more often. They will still buy luxuries, but they’ll buy fewer luxuries; and, they’re redefining what luxuries are. They’re separating true value from false economies. Roberts suggested three strategies that companies can use to keep their products and services on a customer’s “buy” list in an era of less buying.

First, companies can reframe the competition and the category.  In the era of new frugality, many people are eating out at restaurants less and eating at home instead.  Some companies see parallels in this inside/outside phenomenon to redefine their place in the market.  For example, P&G compares its premium-priced Tide Total Care with the cost of dry-cleaning, not with other cheaper detergents. P&G is reframing the category, positioning its detergent as a frugal way to achieve clean clothes in the home without the high-cost of dry-cleaning outside the home.

Second, companies can help consumers use products in a more cost-effective way.  For example, in a similar spirit of saving its customers money, Tylenol’s new ad campaign offers advice that helps customers ease the pain of a headache — without taking a Tylenol product.  Tylenol suggests that if you have a headache, drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes. If you still have a headache, then take Tylenol.  Although the campaign may lose Tylenol some sales, the ultimate goal is to side with the customer and win in the long run. Empathsizing with the need to save money, Tylenol suggests a solution that can save customers money while remaining the brand of choice for tougher headaches.

Third, be honest and highlight the value if you can’t decrease the cost. If your product truly is a premium-priced luxury, don’t pretend that it’s a cut-rate necessity. Be honest. Customers still want joy in their lives, and they’ll still treat themselves to an occasional luxury. Rather then make a luxury seem cheap, highlight what makes it more special and more meaningful. The product may not cost less, but the emotional bonus makes it more valuable.


  1. Reframe your product’s category (e.g., detergents competing with dry cleaners)
  2. Offer useful advice on cost-effective use of your product
  3. Enhance the emotional value of your product

For More Information:

Kevin Roberts will be presenting at the World Business Forum in New York City on October 6-7, 2009.

Kevin Roberts is the author of Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands
and The Lovemarks Effect: Winning in the Consumer Revolution

2 Comments »CEO, Customers, How-to, Strategy