Innovation and a Quest for Meaning, by Marc-André Allard

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Interview with Marc-André Allard, Innovation Director.

Is innovation always at the service of the best?

There is a concept that is very close to innovation: that of meaning. Innovation has long served as an excuse to charge customers higher prices. This “additional premium,” which is sometimes not at all justified by the value added to the product or product or service, is an innovation gadget, driven by the sole objective of financial profit.

How does one create meaningful innovation?

There are three conditions necessary to drive innovation: novelty (bringing something new to the table, be it a product, service, or process), value (creating value by responding to an actual use, need, or expectation), and outreach (an invention created at the back of a garage, however brilliant it may be, will not rise to innovation status if no one ever hears about it). It is important that they all be present if you want the end result to be a success.

We clearly see that if we base the forum of innovation on these principles, the question of meaning jumps to the fore. All innovation must absolutely be based on meaning and value, and this basis must then be validated by its public release, as well as its adoption and mass distribution.

In this era of slow life, deconsumerism, etc…, does “real” innovation necessarily infer technological breakthrough?

Technological prowess is not always imperative to innovation. In some cases, it can even be counterproductive. As early as 2007, BIC was bold enough to launch a parody TV commercial for its “Septator”, the only 7-blade razor on the market, whose “last two blades applaud the work of the first five”, to market the efficiency of its triple-blade razor.

One of the most fruitful playing fields for innovation today is the return to simplicity. Long gone are the times of over-sophistication, the race for premiumization and complex promises that are far too difficult for consumers to understand. They were the main motto of so-called low-cost rupture strategies that spread like wildfire through all sectors since the 90s: airlines, furniture, Internet access… enabling the rise of outstanding champions like Easyjet, Ikea, and Free.

This is ultimately demonstrated in the Danone group strategy. Whereas Essensis embodies the decade 2000 as an outrageous failure of marketing strategies, the following decade was characterized by a return to basics and the comeback of Danone Nature, “a delicious yogurt made of 100% natural milk, cultivated by French farms. Nothing more, nothing less”.

And what impact does this have on the way innovation projects are conducted?

The first priority is to look at consumer habits in order to ensure that the proposed innovations meet a real need. Incorporating the question of consumer habits into the development of any value proposition is one of the main features of Design Thinking.

But more broadly speaking, it also involves integrating an expert view of the brand and its ability to formulate and carry out a certain number of meaningful commitments. For the most part, brands have already anticipated this shift: the majority of innovation briefs that we have been receiving for the past eighteen months include the question of meaning and responsibility. What was previously the domain of the CSR manager is now shared with Brand Managers and Product Managers. And at Lonsdale, we have just the right experts for this!