Partner Content
This content was paid for by Henkel and produced in partnership with the Financial Times Commercial department.

Q&A: “Consumer data is the holy grail of innovation”

Rik Strubel, Chief Marketing Officer at Henkel Beauty Care

What are the main drivers of innovation today?

Social media consumption has changed consumer behaviour and expectations. The average 17-year-old, for instance, follows around 700 influencers on social media. That plethora of options and overload of stimuli is forcing brands to be more distinctive. 

Second, due to technological developments, smaller players have been able to enter categories in the FMCG market. Today we need to be aware of a completely different set of competitors than we did in the past as well as look for different routes to market. Third, big trends such as the climate crisis are keeping us on our toes. The combination of these three factors: consumer behaviours, who our competition is and what they’re doing and the trends changing our world, make innovation imperative today.

Would you say that consumer demand for sustainable solutions has increased in recent times?

Absolutely. Until 2017, sustainability was not even in the top 20 factors influencing consumer choice. Since then, it has crawled up massively, and now it’s one of the top five. Businesses that don’t provide sustainable solutions, particularly in our area of FMCG and beauty care, and are not transparent about where their materials come from, will become less competitive and lose overall market share. 

What are the challenges and opportunities around serving consumers who are exposed to so much choice from other brands and social media?

There has been an exponential segmentation of the market. While in the past there were five categories of consumers, today there are 50 different consumer profiles, or personas that we are targeting. This makes it harder to find one product that can be successful on a large scale.

On the other hand, this segmentation has helped us get smarter, listen more, and get closer to consumers. We are not just guessing what they want but co-creating with them to bring ideas to life.
To that end, over the past two years we have changed our innovation circle from a few touch points with consumers to a continuous exchange from the very first idea until the launch of products into mass channels.

How are you using analytics to respond to trends and meet customer expectations?

Consumer data is the holy grail of innovation. We've worked hard to understand what data we need to create value for us as well as for the consumer. There are various different pathways to obtaining data. For example, we developed an IoT tool, which analyses your hair, giving you information about your hair structure, colour and condition. With that information, we're able to give consumers a more personalised hair care product as well as make recommendations about the kind of colour that would suit them, and the type of hair treatment they need.

How important is it to celebrate successful innovation?

If you talk to a junior brand manager who's brought her first shampoo to life, you can see the tremendous pride she takes in seeing her innovation on the shelf. And you see a lot of pride particularly in young people who are craving to participate in that journey.

It’s important to build a culture that celebrates this success. I think businesses don't do this enough. Leaders should pick key moments and say, "That's great work. This is something that the world hasn't seen, so well done. Now, let's get on to the next one.”

Apart from celebrating success, what else should leaders aim to do to foster an innovation mindset within their teams?

It’s every leader's mandate to unleash their organisation’s innovation power. However, leaders can as easily and quickly restrain it with the wrong behaviour. We often underestimate the impact of a gesture or a comment on the potential of our people. That’s why leaders should have the humility to step back ask themselves “Am I an enabler of change and innovation? Or am I the problem?”. 

To avoid making the same mistakes as others before us, leaders should tap into the knowledge of more experienced people within the organisation and combine this with the new skills and ideas of younger talent. Then you have the perfect culture match that can drive the new era of innovation.

Find out more about Henkel