Creating a Culture of CPG Innovation for the “New Normal”

By Kevin Hunter, Chief Commercial Officer and Head of Innovation, Catalina Marketing

We’re all eager to go back to business as usual. But without a fresh look at your structure, talent and mindset, no amount of money will deliver what’s needed to thrive in what will be the “new normal” post COVID-19’s global apex. Starting now to create a culture of innovation will.

Most thriving companies are built to repeat whatever drove their initial success and then rely on incremental change to make it better. Catalina was no different. We launched in 1983 with a single, game-changing product (check-out printers in grocery stores) and quickly became the market leader, but more than 35 years later needed to reassert our relevancy in an omni-channel shopping world.

We applied an entrepreneurial approach to a category leader, taking a cue from Eric Ries’s The Startup Way, who advises making innovation measurable and fast.

The lessons we’re continuing to learn and apply through this digital transformation may help you navigate the unprecedented change on the horizon and fend off competition and new entries as you lean into what’s to come.

Separate from the mother ship

Fast-track innovation by tapping into the strength and expertise of small, nimble, cross-functional teams and separating them from the pack. Now, Zoom or Webex can naturally accelerate this. When we started, we created Catalina Labs and removed previously sacrosanct process rules and capital finance barriers that were both daunting and inhibiting.

Create a safe haven for failure

Encourage these teams to embrace iterative failure and celebrate small wins. Eventually enough small wins will add up to big wins. It’s important to give your company’s brightest minds the chance to try new things without the fear of management saying “I told you so” if they don’t hit a home run on the first swing.

Identify one core value

Set a core value for prioritizing ideas – ours was differentiating. Because data-driven solutions were popping up everywhere – from consultancies to ad agencies to in-house analytics teams – we challenged these small groups to build new mousetraps, not just better ones.

Share outsider innovation

In the months ahead, when teams hit a brick wall or feel defeated when an innovation fizzles, look outside the company for inspiration. We learned during the pandemic that It’s everywhere. From syringes that eke out another dose of vaccine and distilleries that make hand sanitizer, to a food service company supplying delis and prepared foods to grocery stores. They pivoted product design, product lines and distribution channels to open new revenue streams. To get traction for an idea, show how an aspect of it was working elsewhere. It was and will continue to be a terrific motivator to resistors; no one wants to be left behind.

Forge new partnerships

Don’t shy away from collaborating with outside partners to improve your speed to market. In the past six months alone, we’ve begun working with iHeart Media, Verizon Media, Cadent, Tapad and Yellowbrick Data on measurement, privacy and cloud data storage solutions.

During your evolution, constantly remind yourself that perfection costs too much and the market doesn’t require perfection. It demands value. We now move innovative products into the market when feedback tells us they have created the right customer value and we continue forward as they deliver incremental value from that base. Otherwise, someone else can leapfrog in front, which is something true value-created innovation can fend off on multiple fronts simultaneously. That’s how we brought Digital Circular Personalizer to market during a pandemic.

By creating an innovation mindset at your company now, you’ll already be operating at full steam as the economy takes off in a post-pandemic world.



Kevin Hunter is the co-inventor of 30 granted and 15 pending US patents and won an Emmy® Engineering Award for Sprint TV, a groundbreaking mobile television product he led. Over the past year his team has led the introduction of a string of new products and formed nearly a dozen new partnerships that create new real-time solutions for Catalina’s customers.

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