Exploring the Science Behind Successful Innovation

Exploring the Science Behind Successful Innovation

Hot off the Presses: Innovation is alive and growing. That’s not to say, however, that it is easy or always garners runaway success. But for the companies that persevere and strive to deliver on unmet consumer needs, the rewards can build be brand-building and financially rewarding.

Lessons from this year’s Breakthrough Innovation winners help debunk conventional wisdom that new product success is random, lucky or reserved for entrepreneurs and risk takers. Achieving and creating successful innovation isn’t magic. Successful innovation is a science. And if applied correctly, it can become a repeatable and scalable part of any business.

However, there is a dichotomy in the state of innovation. The pipeline for new consumer products is at an eight-year high, but the failure rate of new product innovation stands at 85%. So the reality is that the scales of balance are off, and brands need to correct their innovation courses to better achieve success in such a difficult and crowded market.


The companies succeeding in today’s fast-paced consumer-driven world are changing category dynamics, not just conforming to them. How do they do this? One way is by implementing the “Jobs Theory”—they introduce products that consumers can “hire” to perform a specific job they need done.

According to this year’s Breakthrough Innovation Report, many products often leave something to be desired, requiring consumers to make minor trade-offs or develop compensating behaviors. This year’s Breakthrough Innovation Winners, however, demonstrated that applying a deep understanding of consumer circumstances is the essential unit of great innovation work. In practice, this puts the consumer solution, the “job spec,” at the center, from idea through development to in-market launch execution. It’s the difference between a minor new product and breaking through a crowded market.

Two examples help bring this to life.

When Kraft was looking to expand its Lunchables line, they knew they had to do more than redefine the brand if they wanted to reach kids that had aged out of the original Lunchables market. In fact, it needed to expand the entire category.

With innovation in the wind, the Lunchables team developed something for older kids that appealed to their palates as well as their eyes because they knew they needed a teen solution for quick and easy lunches. The result? Lunchables Uploaded: New food and new look. With a singular mission and a highly motivated team, Lunchables Uploaded was able to break through the product and marketing clutter and effectively reach a new audience. A new franchise was created, and Lunchables successfully extended its life cycle.

Redd’s Apple Ale is another strong performer in the innovation category. It’s also a testimony to the power of fresh thinking. By focusing on consumers rather than competitors, MillerCoors opened considerable opportunities they hadn’t explored before. By exploring the traditional boundaries between beer, wine, and spirits occasions, it found that they were totally blurred—a trend being driven by consumers. The team set out to deliver a product to reach the outdoor, multi-gender occasions that beer had historically dominated. The result was Redd’s Apple Ale—an innovative product that quickly won over men and women alike that continues to this day.

The 2015 Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Project celebrates high achievement, and importantly provides our industry critical and applicable lessons. Of the 3,522 new products launched in 2013, 12 achieved the criteria to be called “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 are great for consumers, while energizing aisles, expanding categories for retailers, and adding loyal consumers and growth for brands.