Breakthrough leadership isn’t easy. For many consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, innovation has been just another function and activity in a broad set of priorities, with CEOs observing from a distance. Lessons learned from this year’s Breakthrough Innovation Award winners—recently announced at Nielsen’s annual U.S. Consumer 360 Conference in Las Vegas—revealed that, for CPG companies to drive growth, CEO’s should serve as drivers and champions of innovation.
Looking back on five years of Nielsen studies of breakthrough innovation winners, five core steps in demand-driven innovation emerged as the framework for success: insight, development, activation, performance management and lessons learned. But what sits at the center—and what has brought this concept to life—is the critical role of breakthrough leadership. Breakthrough leaders represent a generation of CEOs and C-level executives willing to roll up their sleeves to deliver innovations that solve consumers’ toughest day-to-day challenges and unmet aspirations.
So what constitutes a breakthrough leader, and how has this hands-on approach pushed this year’s winners to new frontiers? Four major themes emerged from the 2016 report’s breakthrough leaders, who are doing things differently to resolve circumstances of consumer struggle to deliver value.
PROMOTE CONSUMER EMPATHY
Understanding consumer pain points sparks great innovation. Breakthrough leaders put consumer demand at the center of all innovation efforts by routinely immersing themselves in circumstances in consumers’ lives, seeking struggles and surprises that act as inspiration. Additionally, observing products and experiences outside the existing category and industry reveals analogs for innovation success
FIT THE PROCESS TO THE OBJECTIVE
Breakthrough leaders apply comprehensive measurement, testing, screening and forecasting protocols throughout the entire innovation process to make outcomes bigger and better. Leaders make the process work to enable innovation success—and not to serve as barrier. They take an active role in experimenting with consumers to understand how the solutions best fit into consumers’ lives.
FAIL VALUABLY AND LEARN SYSTEMATICALLY
In the world of innovation, “nothing is impossible.” Breakthrough leaders embrace this attitude toward opportunities. They study past successes and failures with rigor, learning to improve at every step. They value failure as a recognition that they are thinking big and as a learning tool, otherwise it is simply waste.
EMBRACE A CULTURE OF TRANSPARENCY, COLLABORATION AND HUMILITY
These leaders keep their CEOs actively engaged, not just aware of innovation initiatives. They operate without egos and boundaries, as relentless integrators, they know great innovation only happens when all functions contribute. They display and encourage a sense of humor and recognize that innovation is hard work but also fun.
The 2016 Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Report celebrates high achieving brand innovation and reports on critical and actionable lessons for the entire CPG industry. Of more than 3,500 new products launched in 2014, this year’s winners met the criteria to be recognized as “breakthrough”: distinctiveness (new value proposition, not minor product, packaging or size changes); relevance (achieving at least $50 million in retail sales in their first year); and endurance (achieving at least 90% of year one sales in year two). Breakthrough products address significant consumer circumstances while energizing retail aisles, expanding categories sales, and adding loyal consumers and growth for brands.