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5 Lessons Legacy CPG Companies Need to Learn from Emerging Brands

The product innovation process has changed tremendously over the past decade–for some companies, that is.


Every team responsible for developing physical products wants to adhere to best practices and go to market with a product that consumers will love. But many teams aren’t yet equipped with the tools and tactics that enable doing so in today’s incredibly fast-moving, competitive environment.


For the teams who haven’t evolved with the latest trends in product development, this is bad news–because many of your competitors have evolved. And they’re leveraging these tools to achieve levels of speed, efficiency, and efficacy that were previously unachievable. 


“Before, a product would launch in 18 months. Now, people are demanding products to be launched in 6 to 12 months–and that’s already slow. Some people are launching products in 3 to 6 months.” 

- Mike Wong, Chief Science Officer at Orveon


Often, smaller, newer companies leapfrog old ways of doing things. Larger enterprise firms have their own advantages, but they also need to learn from these smaller upstarts in order to stay competitive. 


Emerging brands are often new in every way. The product itself is new, and the brand is new, too. Companies of this size have no brand equity or perception of quality and trust to rely on. Their only differentiator is the product itself, so they are laser-focused on creating something consumers really love. 


At Highlight, we’ve taken notice of the way many emerging brands in the CPG space are innovating at lightning speeds–and we wanted to share those takeaways with companies of all sizes. Read on to learn their tactics:


In this blog:

Lesson 1: Break down silos to build multipurpose projects 

Lesson 2: Use initial touchpoints to make quick pivots

Lesson 3: Test early and often

Lesson 4: Don’t be afraid to "fail"

Lesson 5: Try new technologies



Lesson 1: Break down silos to build multipurpose projects 

One reality of working in smaller companies is that it’s easier to get everyone in the same room. That’s not as easy in companies of 50,000 or 100,000 employees.


But, it’s one advantage that gives emerging CPG brands the ability to build research that meets every team’s needs at each stage of the product innovation cycle. 


When every team involved has the opportunity to voice their research and data needs from the beginning, companies can save time and money and avoid data gaps.


For example:


  • Your consumer insights team wants to make changes to their in-market products. But they need data on current in-market performance and category white space.


  • Your research & development team has a prototype, but they need to know how it performs on key metrics against in-market competitors.


  • Your product is performing well with testers on flavor, but your marketing team needs to know what messaging and claims will best resonate in digital ads and product reviews.


  • Your sales team needs hard data on consumer preferences to win over new retail partners and get your product on the shelf in more stores across the country.


Across CPG and retail, almost every team involved with conceptualizing, developing, refining, and launching a product needs consumer insights to do their jobs effectively. At Highlight, we’ve noticed the way teams at emerging brands come together to design product research roadmaps that deliver data for everybody. 


Takeaway for legacy CPG brands: If you’re a member of an enterprise team planning your own roadmap, reach out to your adjacent teams. Be the cross-functional hero your product needs to succeed in market.



Lesson 2: Use initial touchpoints to make quick pivots

Emerging (and fast-growing!) brand Verb Energy uses Highlight to act early and quickly. 


“Emerging brands are really impatient,” explains Bennett Byerley, co-founder and COO at Verb Energy. “So it’s really nice to get early data and evidence that you can start to use.”



All the pieces don’t have to be in place to start acting on the insights you have. Instead of waiting for the “perfectly packaged” data report that comes at the conclusion of a specific research project, Verb Energy uses Highlight’s data dashboards with real-time results to incorporate insights into their seller presentations and begin internal feedback and review. 


Example of live data from the Highlight dashboard

Click to enlarge the image above. Highlight’s live dashboards start populating results as soon as Highlighters (members of our product testing community) start submitting their surveys.


Takeaway for legacy CPG brands: Start using the data you have to make an impact early. Don’t wait for your research to be neatly wrapped up and tied with a bow–because your competitors won’t.


Lesson 3: Test early and often

Unfortunately, there’s a misconception amongst some product innovation teams that in-home usage testing (IHUT) and other forms of product testing are late-stage product development initiatives.


This could not be further from the truth. Many emerging CPG brands have discovered the value of beginning with product testing to make sure they are investing their capital wisely. 


Brands pursue product testing in early development stages for data insights like:

  • The key benefits to the customer / the problem they are solving for
  • Category landscape and key differences amongst competitors
  • Category usage behaviors and occasions


And the list goes on! Here at Highlight, we see emerging brands put early-stage product testing to use for a thousand different reasons, and use that data to fuel their innovation.


Testing often is also important thanks to how quickly the market and consumer preferences change.

  • Is your “core consumer” still your core consumer? Or has the market evolved?
  • Are you losing share of category to new competitors?
  • Are adjacent categories growing where you may have better opportunities?


Don’t over engineer your product testing. You don’t need one big study with a massive sample size–you need smaller “n sizes” run more frequently throughout the product development process to give you data injections that inform your innovation as you go.


Testing early and often is also a key component of what many CPG innovation leaders call agile product testing. While many emerging brands are already practicing de-facto agile product testing, other legacy CPG companies like Clorox have institutionalized agile testing as a core process.


Agile product development

In a recent presentation for market research professionals at Quirk’s Chicago, Highlight’s founder and CEO Dana Kim explained how Clorox uses agile product testing to power their innovation process. 

Learn more about how Clorox uses Highlight, or read the Quirk’s Chicago recap.


Takeaway for legacy CPG brands: Product innovation needs consumer data at every stage of the process to ensure your resources are not being wasted and you’re keeping up with a changing market. Don’t wait until the very end of your innovation process to see if your product is working with consumers–and don’t let flagship products languish in-market while emerging CPG brands start stealing your share of the category.


Lesson 4: Don’t be afraid to "fail"

Risk-aversion is critical no matter how big or established your business.


For emerging CPG brands with no capital to waste, the stakes are high. You might think that discourages risk-taking amongst emerging brands, but that’s not exactly true. While enterprise brands can get caught up in risk assessment, the most successful emerging brands know that risk is necessary to grow.


But that does not mean small CPG brands take on risk wantonly. The best emerging brands know how to mitigate risk when they take chances–with, for example, early and frequent consumer testing. 


If an early stage IHUT reveals problems with the product, the best CPG brands don't see that as a failure–they know it's fortuitous to have caught a dud before going to market. 


For example, with Highlight’s product tester community, many emerging brands test a product, identify where it fails, and then use those insights to innovate improvements. Then, these brands can come back and retest with the same group of consumers to see if their new prototype hits the mark. 


Takeaway for legacy CPG brands: Use data to help you de-risk. Dive deep where your product is resonating with consumers, but don’t neglect the data from consumer groups rejecting your product. Make improvements and recontact those testers with new prototypes.



Lesson 5: Try new technologies

One big advantage emerging brands have is a lack of “standard operating procedures.” They’re not hemmed in by old ways of doing things because there ARE no old ways of doing things.


Overcoming institutional habits can be a huge challenge for legacy CPG companies. Often, however, the problem comes down to ignorance: Enterprise innovation teams might see emerging brands moving faster and innovating amazing products, but they just aren’t aware of the tools and tactics their upstart competitors are using to accomplish these impressive go-to-market launches.


Takeaway for legacy CPG brands: The secret for many emerging brands are technologies like Highlight, which enable high-quality consumer data access at lightning speeds. Don’t be afraid to try new tools–because your emerging competitors are trying every option available.


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