What Keyword Unites CMOs in 2021? Innovation

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At Brand Innovators’ TrendWatch livecast event last week, CMOs and senior marketing executives from leading brands shared their insights and visions for what is to come. Whether they worked for a QSR, CPG, a food delivery app, a software security firm or a phone company, one word resonated throughout the event: Innovation.

This last year has forever changed how the world runs and what business as usual means, but one thing that has proven more important than ever in these tumultuous times is innovation.

Innovation from a product perspective, from a customer experience perspective and from a business operations perspective is helping brands navigate the unimaginable and offers hope and optimism for the future.

At Brand Innovators’ TrendWatch livecast event last week, CMOs and senior marketing executives from leading brands shared their insights and visions for what is to come. Whether they worked for a QSR, CPG, a food delivery app, a software security firm or a phone company, one word resonated throughout the event: Innovation.


“Innovation comes in so many different ways,” said Karin Schifter-Maor, Global Chief Marketing Officer of SodaStream. ”SodaStream created the category, which means that we always need to be on top of what the next phase is, always innovating on our own while watching the competition come in. We look for innovation in the machines we are launching, we just launched a dual machine last summer. We also have big innovation in new flavors. We’re doing it in a way that is like a new way of living, a new way of consuming beverages. Working collaboratively with PepsiCo, launching in Europe and recently the US. To us, it’s all about giving the consumer a win-win.”


The last year has been difficult for restaurants but many QSR chains and even fast casual brands have not only survived but thrived thanks to innovations in ordering and customer experience that has allowed people to stay safe from the virus while enjoying someone else’s cooking.

“A lot of people don’t think about White Castle from an innovation standpoint,” said Lynn Blashford, Chief Marketing Officer at White Castle. “Although we aren’t very public facing, we have been doing a lot of innovation of our own working with robotics at different locations. We use robotics to be more efficient and to allow our team members to be more customer facing. Additionally, we’re working with Master Card on an AI voice-driven drive through program where you pull up and the voice will acknowledge you.” 


For Pizza Hut, a return to innovation has been a key focus over the last year. “When Pizza Hut was at its best, we were also on the forefront of innovation,” said George Felix, Chief Marketing Officer of Pizza Hut US, Yum! Brands. “Innovation that was really meaningful for people who love pizza so that's something that our team has really been focused on in the last year - reimagining what our innovation pipeline is going to look like.” 


Jenifer B. Harmon, Chief Marketing Officer of Ruby Tuesday, said that taking a guest-focused approach has helped the brand understand what people want and where they need to innovate. 

“Consumers are going to want what they get from your brand the way that they want it,” said Harmon. “You’re going to need to be meeting them halfway if not further. It’s the way that they want to be served, the way they want to be greeted, the way that they want to pay, the way they want to pick it up, and the way they want it delivered. A lot of things have changed. I think the new normal is going to be a lot easier for everybody and more comfortable for everybody. A lot of things are going to stay because that’s the best way to manage it.” 


The $260 billion food delivery industry has been growing massively over the past few years and a year of closed restaurants only helped accelerate this growth. GrubHub alone reported $9 billion in gross food sales to restaurants in 2020. The app processes more than 660,000 orders a day from their 31 million active users, who they refer to as “diners.” The company has not changed their priorities since they started almost 20 years ago. 

“Our goal at GrubHub is to support the growth of our restaurant partners and to think about innovative ways to do that,” said Jessica Burns, Vice President, Brand Marketing and Creative, Grubhub. “On the diner side, we want to create more value during people’s meal time experiences. It’s a cyclical relationship. As we inspire more diners, it creates impactful growth for restaurants. 2020 has been a challenging time in this industry. We are trying to continue to inspire diners and drive orders to restaurants who need them most.” 


Getting a good night’s sleep has not been easy for consumers over the last year, but Casper Sleep is trying to transform the sleep experience to improve what people think of as a night’s rest.

“Our brand is rooted in disruption,” said Lisa Marie Pillette, Chief Marketing Officer at Casper Sleep, Inc. “But it’s a positive and a negative. We did disrupt the sleep industry and the sleep experience. I think we are still innovating in that space in regards to the pandemic and how we are reaching consumers, how they are shopping, and virtual appointments. I see a consistency of disruption and innovation that Casper is famous for. Our product, whether it’s a single mattress or Best For You and the overall experience, things were always rooted in human-centric design and thought. Even though it was packaged as disruption, our company has always been about creating human experiences. The rigor with which our products are developed are focused on testing and the reactions of real people. Everything goes through a level of research so that it has a best-in-class badge. The human place drives on continual innovation and product excellence.” 


As people continue to live their lives online more than ever, Verizon has been helping consumers and businesses stay connected with smooth experiences. Digital transformation is key to keeping experiences engaging.

“Digital transformation is one of those buzzwords that means different things to different people,” said Sasha Lucas, VP of Digital at Verizon. “But technically speaking, it’s about leveraging digital technology in all areas of your business -  really changing how you operate and delivering new ways of working, new business models and new customer experiences on behalf of your brand. It’s really disruption in the simplest terms. But overall for me, it’s been way more about mindset and culture - cultural transformation, operational transformation, and challenging the status quo.”


With the acceleration of digitization, comes the increase in online fraud. Consumers spend the majority of their lives online and seek security in these spaces. Global brand McAfee has been one of the pioneers of cybersecurity across the globe. Sachin Puri, VP Marketing at McAfee said the balance between global and local can be a challenge. 

“How do you bring in globalization when you have centralization as a key element? How do you bring some of these core key elements while also being locally relevant? For a company to be truly global, you always have to be local,” he said. “When it comes to innovation, it is still at the local level. Customers in certain markets care about different capabilities. One principle I usually apply is to align the accountability and decision making together.” 

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