The rate of change in technology poses a number of challenges for innovators tasked with staying ahead of the curve. Beyond staying apprised of emerging technologies and applying them to business problems, selling an idea based on unproven technology to the C-Suite can often be a non-starter.
At The Coca-Cola Company, Joe Bechely explores emerging marketing technologies to uncover new ways to drive value for the company across its many consumer brands. While most companies its size struggle to tackle new platforms, Joe has built a rigorous system for identifying and prioritizing which technologies the company needs to focus on – and how.
Speaking at the latest Enterprise Entrepreneurship Series in Atlanta, Joe Bechely focused on how Coke has adopted a surprisingly nimble approach to emerging systems.
It starts with the company’s three guiding principles for any marketing innovation initiative. If a potential technology can’t be applied to these tenets, it drops down the list:
- Solve a problem – Whether it’s solving for customer inconvenience, internal inefficiencies or getting ahead of inevitable changes, real innovation is about solving a problem, not playing with exciting new technologies.
- Add value to the consumer – The company works with a number of partners to sell more product, yet sometimes have to remove themselves from the equation to increase value to consumers. In a major collaboration with a live sports partner, his team tested a coupon system that had 8 steps for sign-up; it failed miserably. A second iteration removed 5 steps and Coca-Cola’s sign-up system and increased engagement by 3,500%.
- Prioritize business growth – As a consumer-focused company, Coca-Cola leans its initiatives toward commerce and transactions. While not every new project will aim to drive sales, Joe’s technology efforts always lean toward selling product.
In our interview with him before the event, Joe shared his belief on what it takes for innovators to find success. In his view, it all starts with building rigor around any idea; if you can remove the perception that innovators are merely chasing shiny objects and targeting a concrete problem, your chances of success increase.
If you can build enough rigor in early phase #innovation and prove you're not just chasing shiny objects, you'll have free rein to learn.
— 352 Inc. (@352inc) March 7, 2017
Finally, Joe asked innovators – and executives – to rethink the KPIs around successful innovation. We know that early stage products should not be judged by the same metrics as the core business unit, but Joe believes success metrics can be stripped down even further. Armed with a rigorous learning agenda – understanding what you expect to learn from early tests and clearly outlining your path to those insights – innovators may not need lightweight KPIs.
As we all know, sometimes the most critical outcome of an innovation project is simply learning something new. Innovators and executives should not shy away from failing fast and learning faster.