Jane Wakely, Global CMO for the Pet Nutrition business at Mars, is chairing the Effective Innovation category at the 2020 WARC Awards. She talks to Lucy Aitken about consumer-first innovation, why purpose and innovation are so closely linked and what she’s looking for from this year’s entrants.

How do you personally interpret ‘innovation’?

For something to be innovative it needs an "aha!" moment to make you re-think your assumptions or step back and admire a creative leap. It should be in service of the consumer and meet their pain points and needs. In terms of driving growth, innovation doesn’t just vie for share – it transforms categories. From a communications perspective, innovation needs to move, entertain or drive utility. If it’s technically innovative without driving consumer impact, it's not true innovation.

How can a more innovative approach to marketing drive business transformation?

Marketing should be the architect for business growth. It is marketing’s role to bring the “outside in” and to think of growth “future back” – to inspire what’s possible to better serve our consumers’ needs. If we keep the consumer at the heart of our growth strategy, we can pursue innovation that helps to create and drive business transformation.

Explain the approach that Mars takes to innovation

At Mars, the consumer is at the heart of our approach. In pet care this comes from deep category knowledge. More than 87% of pet care owners say they treat their pets like family, so the bond between owners and pets grows stronger. That means greater demand for new and innovative service care and treatment options.

One example of our approach to innovation is the establishment of Kinship, a new business division of Mars Petcare. Kinship takes a different approach to innovation, seeking to harness the most diverse and passionate innovators in the pet world via start-ups and tech companies to create integrated services and products that transform and better meet the needs of pets and their pet owners. Our approach with Kinship is that innovation is less about individual IP, but more about collaboration and diversity of thought leading breakthrough solutions.

Can you share some examples of how innovation has led to effectiveness within Mars?

• Broadway the Rainbow was an innovative approach to gaining share of mind with our consumers during the Super Bowl for Skittles. Instead of airing a Super Bowl ad, Skittles staged a 30-minute musical on Broadway that took a brightly cynical view on the role of advertising.

• Snickers Hungerithm was an innovative use of data and media to meet hunger needs. Hungerithm used algorithms where Snickers pricing was adjusted to the mood of the internet, bringing further cultural relevance to our long-running campaign “You’re not you when you’re hungry”.

• The Selfie Stix Studios app seeks to address every dog owner’s pain point: taking selfies with your dog is practically impossible! A small gadget attaches a Pedigree Dentastix snack to your phone and ensures that your dog looks straight at the camera. This is a game changer as it deepens the bonding moment with your pet and enables value-added experiences.

What lessons about innovation have you learned at Mars?

• Put deep consumer empathy and insight at the heart of your innovation journey.

• Use design thinking to frame the job to be done.

• Think holistically about innovation to ensure you cover desirability, feasibility and viability.

• Don’t play to your category norm – consider how you can disrupt it.

• Don’t overvalue IP – instead collaborate and partner to find better solutions.

• Harness diversity because diverse teams come to more innovative solutions.

• Don’t aim for perfection – prototype and iterate.

How does Mars innovate in terms of its relationships with agencies and media owners?

Our agencies play a crucial strategic role in the creative approach to innovation. We invest in long term strategic partnerships where our agencies understand not only our brands, but also our business needs and challenges.

What examples of innovation (outside of Mars) have impressed you recently?

Nike’s ‘Air Max Graffiti Stores’ shows a brand utilising relevant research alongside a clear understanding of their consumers’ culture to create an experiential marketing moment.

Encouraging people to purchase the exclusive new designs online gave the idea a unique relevance and staying power.

Which companies (not including yours!) have a robust approach to innovation that links to clear business outcomes?

Burger King not only innovates across its product portfolio but also in its creative marketing approach to capture consumer intrigue. Its Impossible Burger taps into the growing trend of plant-based foods to meet evolving consumer needs and expectations, while also addressing climate change and flexible diets.

Are innovation and purpose close relations?

More businesses are recognising the role they play in helping to make a positive impact on the world and identifying this as their guiding principle. At Mars, our purpose is ‘the world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today’; it’s a filter to how we innovate and do business, and where we strive to make a real and measurable impact.

Purpose is an accelerator of innovation because it motivates talented people to apply their creativity and passion to problem-solving. Purpose enables partnerships that would probably not otherwise happen.

What will you be looking for from entries into the Effective Innovation category of the 2020 WARC Awards?

Does the innovation reframe our assumptions or makes us admire the creative leap? Does it service the consumer and address their pain points and needs?

We’re looking for innovations which have transformed their category. For ideas that move us, entertain us or drive utility. Ultimately, we want to think “wow - I wish I’d been involved in that!”

The free-to-enter 2020 WARC Awards programme, a global case study competition, is open for entries across all four categories (Innovation, Purpose, Content Strategy and Social Strategy) until 19 February. Contact lucy.aitken@warc.com for more details or visit WARC Awards.