Today’s Brainzooming article is courtesy of our friends at Armada Corporate Intelligence and their weekly “Inside the Executive Suite” feature.

Last week’s article highlighted a Fast Company story on Oreo, its global head of media, Bonin Bough, and the Oreo transformation as a brand that’s more than a century old. “Inside the Executive Suite” featured five strategic thinking lessons from the story to highlight innovation opportunities for any well-established brand. 

Strategic Thinking Lessons - Keeping Your Company Fresh via Armada Corporate Intelligence

1. Start innovating with what “can’t” change

AEIB-GraphicAt Oreo (AO): An advertising executive previously on the Oreo account reports, "Every (Oreo) commercial had to have two generations of people . . . over a cookie and a glass of milk" leading to a feel-good experience. After thirty years of the same ad, the brand now describes its marketing approach as coming "from the side and-boom!" That translates to reaching consumers in dramatically different ways and well beyond the brand’s traditional TV advertising.

For Your Brand (FYB): When modernizing a tired brand, don’t rope off a list of people, processes, and other elements to protect them from change. Instead, start by addressing the things you might be tempted to put on a protected list. We use a strategy-setting exercise that asks participants to list everything integral to a stale brand’s characteristics and market position. The group then classifies each item on how aggressively management should consider changing it. With the exercise’s built-in bias to leave very few “sacred cows” at the conclusion, it is a valuable technique to get management to address difficult, but positive change opportunities.

2. Generalize your organization and discover new possibilities

AO: The familiar way to eat an Oreo (as celebrated in decades of ads) is to twist, lick, and dunk it in milk. That verbal threesome sounded to Bough like the title of the popular video game, “Slam Dunk King.” As a result, Oreo worked with the game’s creator to develop an Oreo-centric game called Twist, Lick, Dunk. It was a top game in 15 countries and turned a profit through outside advertisers participating.

FYB: We employ a question-based exercise to help management teams generalize organizational activities and identify comparable situations for inspiration. It involves asking, "How does our business _____ like _____?" The first blank is filled with sense words (feel, look, sound, smell) and goal words (accomplish, serve audiences, communicate), among others. Just a few rounds of this exercise generate an ample list of innovation-inducing comparisons to fill the question’s second blank.

3. Watch Customers for Ideas

AO: One Oreo fan posted a video demonstrating how to dunk an Oreo without getting milk on your fingers. Oreo’s digital agency used that inspiration for a series of short videos on how to "hack" an Oreo. This included using Oreos in new ways (frozen in milk as an iced coffee addition) or as a cooking ingredient (breading for fried chicken). Coincidentally, we saw a photo recently of Oreos baked inside chocolate chip cookies.

FYB: Do you REALLY understand how customers use your product or service? Ask customers what types of hacks they use to get your product to work better, and ask employees what customer-precipitated work-arounds they see, deal with, or enable. This is a valuable line of questions to identify innovation opportunities to increase your value to customers.

4. Look for radically different parties targeting your customers

AO: Oreo realized that as an impulse item at grocery and convenience stores, it faced new competition. Rather than snack products, Oreo was competing against online games and apps, both for attention (since people are focusing on mobile devices instead of snack items while standing in line) and for available dollars spent on online games. This insight helped precipitate the headlong Oreo dive into digital.

FYB: Any company thinking its competition all looks like it does is wildly mistaken. We encourage executives to focus on the benefits their brands provide. They can then identify other, often very different brands delivering comparable benefits. The Oreo example also suggests examining what else customers may be doing with the time, attention, and resources that have typically led them to buy from your company. You can also explore how other brands, in or out of your market, are inserting themselves and disrupting traditional buying processes.

5. Figure out metrics before you innovate

AO: The Fast Company article underscores the troublesome inability for Oreo to link its digital activities to business results. While Oreo has experienced revenue increases, these are attributed to expansion into new Asian markets, not more tweets turning into sales.

FYB: When innovating, developing metrics must be closely integrated with developing the innovation strategy. Tackling metrics early helps identify gaps while there is still time to adapt strategies to ensure collecting relevant data throughout the innovation process. All the metrics, however, may not be quantitative. As you implement innovation initiatives, you should accumulate a mix of metrics that are:

  • Activity-based (i.e., "We've done this many")
  • Indicative of early reactions (i.e., "We see this many more customers inquiring about the product")
  • Business return-based (i.e., "We see this increase in sales revenue")

Planning for varied metrics at the start helps set expectations within the management team for key progress indicators. – Armada Corporate Intelligence


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