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Danone: Innovating in a performance-based culture

In a multinational corporation like Danone there is little room for failure, so the company has applied a precise approach to innovation, using big data alongside deliberate cultivation of a startup mindset.

A few years ago Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber decided that the company needed to become a “startup studio” to progress, said Manuela Borella, Vice President of the company’s Innovation Accelerator. Innovation in large corporations can be slow and difficult, so the idea was to inject a startup mentality, including developing faster, more agile ways of working.

“We can’t afford to think ‘let’s experiment and see what happens’,” she told delegates at the Future of Nutrition Summit in Paris. “When you have a performance culture you have to ensure you have amazing ideas and that the execution is flawless.”

A balancing act

Part of the challenge for Danone is balancing a requirement for innovative concepts that can be rolled out across the company, while also responding to very local tastes and needs

“We have to think globally, but we must have local relevance,” she said. “…We really have a belief that we want to stay intimate with the users that we serve.

To do that, the company uses trend tracking tools as well as data analysis from specialised firms, and tests product concepts on Facebook and Google before they enter production. It starts by asking what problems and needs consumers have – what is their “pain point” – as Borella puts it.

“The first thing is about data,” she said. “What that means for us is to capture user-generated content."

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Her team also uses consumer research to observe actual behaviour, rather than data from surveys alone, as there is often a difference between what consumers say they want and what they actually buy.

“First we aim to identify what is the size of the problem,” Borella said. “That lets us know the size of the opportunity…Then we fake it until we make it. We put the product online that we want to launch and see if there is a response straight away.”

Successful innovation must be disruptive

The aim of innovation at the company is to make something better, which could mean more convenient, healthier or more fun – but the practicality of any new concept remains crucial.

“We need to make sure these ideas are scalable fast,” she said. “We can’t afford to say that it will get to a nice break-even place in four to five years.”

By definition, successful innovation must be disruptive, and this is important to bear in mind when putting together an innovation team, Borella said.

“It all starts with people. My advice is to shape a team where you look at the personalities of the people you want working for you,” she said. “I want to hire unconventional people who can manage ambiguity. Civil disobedience is also needed to be able to challenge company rules without putting the company in danger.”

 

TAGS: Start-ups
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