SHANGHAI: Foreign brands can often find China a difficult market when they plan to launch a new product, but FMCG giant Unilever found that a streamlined innovation process helped it to get ideas to market in a shorter time than traditional ways.

Allen Cai, Senior CMI Manager at Unilever China, and Ching Ling Ng, Research Director at consultancy Labbrand China, explain in an ESOMAR paper how the company sought to supercharge China-specific innovations by bringing in stakeholders at an early stage and building on team effort across the company.

Entitled Streamlining the Innovation Process to Maximize Efficiency, the paper sets out a step by step guide from initial market research through to internal assessment, idea generation and then development.

"Contrary to popular belief, new ideas emerge most frequently as the result of collective knowledge, and typically do not come from a lone 'genius'," they write.

"Consequently, for successful innovation to occur, the internal and external networks of an organization have to be well-developed. Innovation is therefore a team effort whereby a well-balanced, participative group of people produce a plan to sell the creative concept and follow it through to implementation."

For a global company like Unilever, there are many processes involved in getting an innovation to market, so the purpose of its streamlined approach is to come up with as many ideas as possible for short-term quick turnaround to long-term investments that require assorted buy-ins from stakeholders.

So, rather than bringing in consumers to co-create, Unilever's process focuses on bringing in only stakeholders who know about the business issue, processes, pipeline and feasibility.

Also crucial to success is having the marketing research function as the lead voice of the innovation process and making it the facilitator to streamline the overall process, as well as buy-in from senior management.

"This brings all stakeholders to a common starting point and facilitates cross-business unit communications and collaboration in order to make the outcome actionable and impactful for the business," the authors explain.

"What we tried to achieve in this new innovation process is to cut down the time of innovation with leaner processes in order to get ideas to market in a shorter turnaround."

Data sourced from ESOMAR; additional content by WARC staff