How do PMs create trends in innovation?

This is episode four in the Capgemini “Leaders in Innovation” Podcast Series, featuring guests in the Capgemini portfolio of products. Here, Capgemini Invent Senior Director Eric Cohen talks with Unilever Global Head of Digital Innovation Darren Adams. The conversation ranges from data in consumer products, to how PMs balance long and short term priorities. Finally, Darren gives insight into how PMs can set and reach goals for both innovation and sustainability.

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On consumer product usage and analysis

Since Unilever sells many physical products in stores, they have an inherent problem of losing touch with the consumer. Darren explains below.

“If you think about a consumer journey and skincare, there are five or six steps. And the first couple of steps are all around identification of need, and searching for the right solution and purchase. Which is largely covered by the marketing team.

“But what I like to really think about is two or three steps after that, which is effectively usage, and then tracking of results and analysis. Whether you’re talking about mayonnaise or skincare, that is the part that we just don’t know… We don’t know how they use it. 

“Consequently, we don’t know whether it’s having the effect that it should, whether they’re using it in the right regiment, whether they’re using the right way. If there’s multiple steps, whether they’re doing that correctly. We don’t know whether the consumer is actually getting the result that they thought they were going to get. 

“In addition to that, we don’t get any feedback from an r&d perspective. We don’t know whether we need to change the way that the product is being developed. Whether it needs to be creamier. Or it needs to be a heavier formulation. Whether people want to combine different products into one. We don’t have any of that understanding. 

“That’s where I am, myself and the team, spending a lot of time trying to analyze and really work out how we bridge that gap. Because then it flows on into recommendation, repurchase, and all sorts of things. So there’s a bit of a cyclical aspect to it. 

“Usage and analysis is a big part of where our focus is today. And I think digital is starting to give us some perspective.”

On long and short term PM priorities

Should a PM be thinking about longterm innovation and success? Or simply the immediate goals? According to Darren, the ideal answer to that question is “both.” However, he also acknowledges that a lot is riding on how PM performance is measured.

“The critical thing that I’ve learnt over many, many years, often the hard way, is that people are people. We’re all busy. We’ve got a lot of things to do. And we will respond to whomever is yelling the most, or wherever our performance measurement comes from. And if you’re being almost 100% measured against your sales targets for the quarter, guess what’s going to happen? That’s all you’re gonna focus on. 

“And that’s not a bad thing. Because that’s what you’ve been told to do, right? If that’s the only conversation you have had, and the only way you’ve been measured, that’s what’s going to happen. The way we’ve seen the shift is where a KPI or a percentage of that person’s performance or group’s performance is measured also against the innovation and the pipeline that they create for future growth.

“When you look at middle management, which often leads day to day decision making, if they are not being driven to look beyond the next quarter, or the next year, then it’s just simply not going to happen. The resource allocation is not going to happen. The funding is not going to be there. And mindset, as well as focus, is just not going to be present. No matter how much you push it, and how many great companies or great solutions you put in front of them, they’re not going to adopt it.”

On innovation and sustainability goals

Sustainability is a growing concern in product management and development. However, it isn’t always clear how PMs should integrate sustainability into a roadmap. Darren explains some of the changes in this area.

“Traditionally, we always thought about those three watchwords of desirability, feasibility, and viability. Sustainability has become that fourth component. …It can be a little vague. We set these big goals around reducing emissions, or how we use plastics, etc. We have these big targets. But there are small components also that lead up to those big targets. I think there’s still a question mark around the metrics of those small steps in sustainability. 



“That’s where Innovation does play a role. Where we can start to say, well, as part of the innovation construct, if we include sustainability as one of those components that we actually think about as part of the process of innovating, we can now start to play some smaller metrics around that. …

“The challenge for many innovators now is, as they think about sustainability, how are you starting to place metrics against sustainability? …From a sustainability perspective, we are now going to reduce manufacturing costs. We’re going to reduce shipping costs. Or we’re gonna reduce the reliance on palm oil. What impacts does that have? And how does that contribute to the organization meeting its goals? 

“I think that’s just another angle for Innovation within an organization to display its value and worth. And another conversation it can have with business owners about how it’s making a positive impact.… It’s not just short term. It’s also, here’s another dimension that we’re hoping presidents or leaders of the organizations meet the targets that are in front of them.”

About the speaker
Darren Adams Unilever, Global Head of Digital Innovation Member
About the host
Eric Cohen Capgemini Invent, Senior Director
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