How to Get to the “Aha” of Brand Innovation

Published on May 12, 2009

Innovation activism is essentially “shining a spotlight on the blind spots,” said David Roth, managing partner of Get Stirred Up consulting and co-founder of Cereality cereal restaurants.

“We believe the lessons we have learned from that approach are very transferrable to both individuals and organizations,” Roth said during a talk sponsored by the Kilts Center for Marketing and the alumni Marketing Roundtable at Gleacher Center on May 12.

“It’s worth telling our story because it provides such a candid look at what it’s really like to get into the guts of innovation,” he said. “Everybody talks about the ‘aha’ moment, but we’re interested in what it takes to get to that aha outcome.”

Four key principles drive successful innovation, Roth said:

• The brand serves as the outline. “Right from the beginning, the brand is there as you are construing and building the business,” he said. “It’s not an afterthought after you get the top and bottom lines together.”

• The experience delivers the results. “When you create a business that taps into the emotional element of ritual, habit, and feeling that is memorable, it’s very powerful,” Roth said.

• The conversation sustains the promise. “When you hit that zeitgeist and people are excited and find it relevant to their lives, they start a conversation and you have to be at the center of that conversation,” he said.

• Idea stewards must be visible and vigilant. “You should make sure the idea is understood at every level, viscerally and objectively,” Roth said.

The idea for Cereality emerged while Roth was providing marketing for companies seeking emotional connections to their goods and services, he said. Roth and his partner, Rick Bacher, attempted to blend strategy and design into a brand category with emotional connections already established, Roth said.

He said the key insights behind the idea were:

• The category had ubiquity. Cereal is the third most-purchased grocery item after soft drinks and milk, 95 percent of Americans eat it, and it is a multi-billion-dollar industry, Roth said.

• People have loyalty to cereal brands. “This was a huge opportunity for branding guys looking at this as a sort of meta-brand retail operation — a brand of brands,” he said.

• People have very elaborate rituals of eating their cereal. “Everyone has a different way of enjoying the product and taking something on a grocery shelf and bringing it into their lives – at home, in their office, or in their car,” Roth said.

• People wanted a public place to celebrate this ritual. “People may have been a little embarrassed that they were having it for dinner,” he said. “We needed to make it less stigmatized.”

• The retail environment needed to be fun, hip, and intuitively correct. “The issue was, how do we make a place that feels like a home for cereal away from home, instead of a restaurant that serves cereal?” Roth said.

The company needed to create a meta-brand right out of the gate. “We liked the idea of Sephora Cosmetics, which put the customer — not the marketing or product manager — in charge of the experience,” he said.

                                                                                                                    — Phil Rockrohr