Why Quality Without Compromise Is the Key to Successful Innovation

Joe Willke
Joe Willke, President, Nielsen Innovation (BASES) and Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience

Product innovation has come so far in the last 30 years, let alone the last five or even 10 years. What used to be a years-long process can now be done in a matter of months—with more speed and accuracy than ever before. At the same time, however, the marketing landscape has become more complex, as new technology changes the way we shop.

A couple of years ago, “big data” was the buzzword when it came to unlocking new innovations in this changing marketplace. But now, marketers understand that the true value lies in being able to use these technologies to translate consumer data into consumer insights.

By focusing on marrying data with science, Nielsen has a long history of making it easier for companies to identify unmet opportunities, develop and test new products, and forecast demand. Nielsen’s Innovation Practice (BASES) has long been the industry standard for research and development. Today, we have the industry’s most rigorous forecast solution*, but we’re not remaining static.  

To make our innovation solutions even easier and more flexible to use, we’ve consolidated our offerings under one global business. We recently asked Joe Willke, the new President of the Nielsen Innovation Practice, to explain how the connection of data and science will continue to play an important role in shaping the way marketers innovate.

Joe, BASES is where you started your career, and you spent many years leading the organization. What has changed in the decade since you last led BASES?

First, the market environment has changed significantly. E-commerce has grown dramatically. Deep-discount retailers have expanded globally. Local giants have raised the level of their marketing sophistication and executional capabilities. Media fragmentation and social media have altered the way we navigate the path to purchase.  In general, it’s a more complicated and competitive market environment than we faced 10-20 years ago.  

Second, BASES itself has changed.  BASES has evolved to address the challenges companies are seeing in this space. Many of the best-in-class capabilities that have long characterized BASES—like forecasting excellence, great client service and high data quality—are still there. But we’ve expanded our innovation toolkit to include a number of new capabilities, from genetic algorithms that optimize concepts to more powerful target group diagnostics, from quick-turn solutions to pricing optimization tools. That said, I believe there’s still a lot of room for improvement and focusing our energy and resources on our innovation suite of tools will enable us (and our clients) to leapfrog to the next level. I really look forward to leveraging our global scale and capabilities to better serve our clients.

Why should retailers and manufacturers pay attention to innovation now?

Today, most industries struggle to find growth. They try to approach it in a number of ways, including mergers and acquisitions, but the truth is, there’s no better cure than effective innovation.

There’s a consistent cry for “cheaper, faster, better” tools to improve the innovation process. But, most of what’s in the marketplace today is “cheaper, faster, worse.” In my view there are no “get rich quick” approaches to successful innovation. Successful innovation takes homework, deep consumer insights, reliable scoping and planning, and disciplined execution. That doesn’t mean that reducing cost and timing shouldn’t be a priority, but if it comes at the expense of quality and reliability, no one wins. Speed  without compromising on quality is hard to deliver, but that’s what BASES is focused on doing.

You also run Nielsen’s Consumer Neuroscience business. Do you see opportunities for those two businesses to learn from each other?

I do. I’ve run Nielsen’s Consumer Neuroscience business for a little over 5 years, and I’ve been amazed at the power of these newer technologies, especially in areas like video advertising. We have over 20 neuroscientists on staff at Nielsen—that’s more than most major universities. It’s a tremendous amount of brain power and expertise that no other research company in the world comes remotely close to matching.

These two fields of study can learn a lot from each other. I’m sure we won’t crack the nut overnight. But no one is better positioned than Nielsen to align innovation best practices with consumer neuroscience technology and methodology.

Any final thoughts, Joe?

I’d just say that I’m very excited to be back at BASES, and I look forward to working with our clients to develop some great new products together!

*Nielsen’s BASES Forecasting System has been independently verified by the Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB) through its Marketing Metrics Audit Protocol (MMAP) as the first and only forecasting model in the industry to undergo this accountability standard.

 

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