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The secret ingredient for successful brand innovation

Allen Adamson and Barton Warner explore how “grit” is the secret sauce for companies and organizations for successful brand innovation.

5 min read

Marketing Strategy



Predicting the success potential for new brands is not necessarily a fool’s errand, but even with advancements in research techniques it’s still hard to determine which new products or services will be a win with consumers. Nielsen estimates that 85% of new products launched in the consumer packaged goods industry fail, at a great cost to innovators and their companies.

Solving this dilemma has created its own industry of thinkers, pundits, workshops and analytics. Typically they employ a “post hoc” approach, looking backwards to search for reasons some things succeeded while others didn’t. Marketers crave a repeatable model. They want to break things down into variables that can be quantified to achieve the perfect formula. The theory is that by understanding the past we can better predict the future.

Given our experience, we believe the “repeatable model” for innovation success is not about post hoc analytics or templates, but requires something, although intangible, is much more critical. And that is having “grit.”

Pioneering psychologist, Angela Duckworth, wrote about this topic in her bestselling book of the same name, more specifically “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” While her thesis relates to what it takes to succeed as a student, a parent, an educator, an athlete or a business person, our thesis is that “grit” is also the secret ingredient in brand innovation and, ultimately, long term success.

It’s a reality that lots of people can come up with a good idea for a new product or service at the same time. Having the right idea at the right time is important, and necessary, but it’s insufficient in our highly competitive and transparent marketplace. A good idea at the right time is table stakes. It’s having the grit to battle through the barriers and obstacles that will invariably arise. It’s having the grit to ensure that every component of the innovative new idea is brilliantly executed, from functionality to packaging to customer service to marketing. Every aspect of the initiative must be 100% on target. Ten percent off on anything and you might as well be a mile off.

This takes a gritty team, relentlessly driven to perfection, to working out the details, and working in harmony toward a common goal. Forget the linear, conveyor belt approach. Success depends on a team working in unison, persevering and passionately focused on a clearly defined outcome.

Among the many examples of “grit” in action has to do with the quiet, but thriving, category of gummy vitamins for adults. The backstory is revealing. Girard Smith, who led the nutritionals business at Bayer at the time recalled that gummies, or “VitaCraves” as they were branded, were not initially popular within the company. In fact it had not been tested or researched, at least not in the traditional sense. The team spotted the idea by noticing that adults were eating their children’s gummy vitamins. Consumers had created a “workaround” to get the vitamin they wanted. That was all it took to galvanize the team and build the perseverance required to sell a skeptical organization. VitaCraves gave adults the experience and the nutritional support they needed, and ended up creating a $250MM category.

Chapter 2 of the gummy vitamin story happened years later. Eric Ryan, inventor of the Method household and personal care brand, took gummy vitamins to even greater heights. Eric and his team applied their repeatable innovation model that allows them to lead the consumer rather than follow her. With Method under their belts, Eric and his team got out of their offices and into shopping aisles looking for bad shopping experiences. They set their sights on the confusing vitamin shopping aisle and created the Olly brand. Olly combined gummy vitamins with design and clearly articulated benefits, connecting with shoppers as a beacon of simplicity in an intimidating aisle.

The Olly story personifies the “grit” idea remarkably well. Method started with a challenge – the wall of intimidating vitamins – and they built new solutions. Just like Method, Olly thrived, driven by the strength of the idea supported by a culture of passion and perseverance. Olly, which now boasts sales of over $100MM, was recently sold to Unilever for an undisclosed sum.

With a nod to Angela Duckworth, we support the notion of “grit” as the secret ingredient in creating innovative new brands. Gritty people who come up with gritty ideas and can assemble gritty teams with the passion and perseverance to execute every detail brilliantly. Predicting innovation success will always be challenging. That is why the rewards for winners are so high.

We believe that “grit” is the secret ingredient essential to getting it not just right, but perfect.


Allen Adamson is co-founder of Metaforce and Adjunct Professor, NYU Stern. He is the author of “BrandSimple,” “BrandDigital,” “The Edge” and “Shift Ahead.”

Barton  J. Warner is a strategic partner of Metaforce. He is former vice president, Marketing and New Business for Bayer. He is engaged in business consulting, leadership coaching, and is co-founder of a wellness startup.


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