Millennials’ ideas, behavioural insights and positive creative conflict – inside Kellogg’s innovation team
Tamara Howe, director of innovation and masterbrand at Kellogg, gives Samuel Tait an insight into The Foundry, Kellogg’s innovation team that is keeping the 100-year-old brand relevant. Here she discusses why millennials hold a key to innovation, why she no longer believes in focus groups, the value in “positive creative conflict” and why failing a new product can be a seen as a positive.
Samuel Tait: As a leader of The Foundry, your innovation team at Kellogg, what does your day-to-day entail?
Tamara Howe: I spend my time focusing on the future – and really being at the front of future trends and forecasts. Where we think the food culture is going so that we can ensure that we’re at the forefront of that. A lot of my time pragmatically is also just helping the team shepherd through the many innovation projects that we have on the boil.
ST: How has The Foundry team been set up to help support the two sides of innovation – the ideation and the execution?
TH: We’ve actually divided the team into these two different capability sets. The exact reason is that they are different capabilities, yet both need focus. We call the idea side the design team – which is basically the front end team. They do the front end of innovation; going from what we call basis for interest, so a territory that we think is promising, through to prototypes and an approved initial stage gate document that can then be handed over to the execution team to go on and execute. The execution team will take the project right up to the point where we have a final product. The commercial team will then take on the go to market plan.
For the design team, we were looking for capabilities and behaviours that are a bit more creative, flexible, shall we say conceptual, green housing type behaviours versus within the execution team which is a different capability set and behaviours that are more process driven, getting it done, execution, timelines and those sorts of things.
We have built the team specifically that way. For example, we have food developers who sit in the design team and food developers who sit in the execution teams. So from a skill sets perspective you probably have similar skill sets or experience in both teams, however behavioral thinking and how people approach things is different.
ST: Do you have any tips for hiring people for this type of environment?
TH: I think what’s been a really great hiring decision (and Bruno Madonna, our research and technology director has been a champion of this so I take no credit at all) is to bring in some really great fresh young talent. They’re fresh out of school or have only been in the industry for a couple of years but because they started young and they are in that millennial mindset. There is just a great food culture value with them, which I think the millennial generation epitomises. They’re just so open to new ideas, fresh thinking and having a go.
ST: Can you talk about the role of the design team within your innovation process?
TH: The whole process is designed around a stage-gate process. On the front end within the design team we have pretty standard ideation tools. This is also where we’re really focused on bringing the outside in. The design team is always talking to outside parties, we’re constantly immersing ourselves into the needs of the consumer and the shopper and the customer. We do a lot of future forecasting and the design team needs to be absolutely across these areas.
For example, we are working with a business in the US called Institute For The Future, which conducts forecasts 10 years out. They have a belief that it’s easier to predict the future 10 years out than it is one year out, which is really kind of counterintuitive yet it makes sense when you think about it. We tend to underestimate what we can do in the long-term but overestimate what we can do in the short-term.
One of the things they are talking about is the rising middle class population, which will drive a rise in the need for protein. More sustainable sources of protein is then going to be a huge requirement globally. That gets you thinking about how we can play a role in that area; there’s obviously a huge amount of protein options that we can explore.
ST: How do you involve your customers and consumers in the process of innovation?
TH: On a regular basis the retailers are actually asking us for things. Some of it we can do and some of it we can’t. Also we’ll take some ideas to them and they will help shape them. An example would be a new snack product we’re launching next year and retailers were providing us some really great insights about what is really driving the category – that it’s more about better for you confectionery, rather than super healthy snacking.
We aim to look at the customer insight, the shopper insight and then the consumer insight as the three-way win. Looking at innovation from those three lenses to make sure we’re solving a problem for each of those three groups. Often the shopper is very different from the end consumer, so we’re trying to get smarter about that as well. Obviously if the consumer is a child you want to delight the child, but also a mum needs to feel good about bringing that product home for her child to eat.
By applying these filters upfront and we get that right then it’s a much smoother journey to actually launching the innovation. It means more work in the front end but it comes from what we’ve learned through root cause analysis of innovation projects that failed. It’s really key to get that right.
ST: Are there any specific research methods you use to find or evaluate problems of consumers?
TH: I can talk about a new innovation coming out in August that has been developed around portable, more convenient solutions which has somewhat been informed through behavioral-based research.
Overall I’m really not a fan of focus groups any more, I just think that the methodology is somewhat dated now and you get attitudes and responses within social norms instead of people’s true behaviours. A mum will always say “I want more variety for my kids” but the reality is it might be a habitual purchase and she buys the same thing every week. That’s a good example of what she might say in a focus group, however her actual behaviours are very different.
Now we are incorporating a methodology that asks people to be investigators of their own behavior or observers of their own behavior to record their observations. We might ask them to observe their own behavior through online methodologies to really uncover what truly are their unmet tensions. Through this process we might find that the same mum that says she wants variety is actually buying the same product every week because it has become a habitual purchase.
That’s good to know right? We’re definitely using more behavioural-based research methodologies moving forward.
ST: From your experience at Kellogg do you have any advice in managing complex stakeholder environments?
TH: Advice? It’s not easy! I think essentially it’s trying to understand where people are coming from and then seeing how you can meet their needs. Having good healthy debates and discussions is also important. We call it positive creative conflict where we make sure that we’re getting to the best outcomes through a good healthy debate.
ST: What are some of the major hurdles you have faced in delivering the innovation program at Kellogg?
TH: It’s about finding the middle ground between agility and also the due diligence to minimise risks to the business – of balancing risk versus reward. I think we all want more agility but when the rubber meets the road the business also starts to get a bit weary of risk. We are fine tuning this and learning as we go.
ST: What advice would you give to help others succeed with their innovation programs?
TH: I think always start with the consumer or the shopper insight – the problem you’re solving. In my experience if you have a good clear problem that you’re solving for, a lot of the other stuff just starts to take care of itself.
Secondly, really embrace an entrepreneurial spirit – courage in particular. Everyone has ideas however what separates individuals is making them happen and it takes a lot of drive and perseverance to succeed.
The last one is actually my favourite. Reframe failure as learning and failing fast so that you can succeed sooner. It’s hard when NPD fails because it feels like you birthed a baby and you don’t want your baby to fail, but you’ve got to reframe that as being one step closer to the next success.