Diageo on understanding human behaviours to build winning innovation

Diageo is a global leader in the spirits industry. Our brands have been at the heart of celebrations around the world for centuries. They are the cornerstones of our purpose – to celebrate life every day, everywhere.

Heading up creative and design for Diageo’s APAC innovation team, it’s my job to keep the legacies of our brands alive and ensure that they remain relevant to today’s consumers. To stay ahead of trends and respond quickly with exceptional experiences me and my team are constantly adapting our approach. This has taught us a few surprising lessons along the way, which today form five principles we live by to build winning innovations:

1. Infiltrate the natural habitat

The story of Smirnoff Midnight Maxx

Most nights in Bangkok, friends will gather around plastic tables to listen to music, play the guitar, chat and share a bottle of brown spirit. Colloquially, this is known as ‘the whisky circle’, and we saw an opportunity to be part of it.

Initially, we researched using traditional qualitative techniques in a sterile room with a two-way mirror, but discovered very little. It was only when we infiltrated the natural habitat and spent time in ‘the whisky circle’ that we discovered new insights. Consumers found the taste of their whisky harsh and loved our Smirnoff Midnight 100 premixed drink in a can, but they would never drink it in ‘the whisky circle’ because its format was not social and sharable.

In February 2017 we launched Smirnoff Midnight Maxx, a full-strength spirit version of Midnight 100 in a bottle for sharing. It tastes smoother than whisky but its dark colour borrows masculine codes of the category. In the first year of launch, we sold around a million bottles.

2. Tangible attributes are key

The story of Bundaberg Lazy Bear

Australia is known for its barbeque culture and we wanted to find a credible reason for Bundaberg Rum to be invited instead of beer. The ‘Bundy’ brand is very much loved but rum was not suitable for this occasion.

We hung out with our consumers and discovered that beer made people feel ‘beered-out’ – a sluggish feeling from the bloating and boring samey taste of beer, often followed by a bout of guilt for failing to make the most of the moment.

That’s how Bundaberg Lazy Bear was born. It is rum, dry and lime, premixed and ready to drink. The format and look appear like beer, but its crisper, fresher taste, lower ABV of 3.5% and lighter carbonation reduces that ‘beered-out’ feeling.

Bundaberg Lazy Bear became the number one driver of the ready-to-drink category in Australia last year, and 80% of its consumers had switched from beer.

3. Think beyond category

The story of Smirnoff Pure

Australian twenty-somethings were rejecting the likes of Smirnoff Ice in favour of craft beers and ciders. The ‘ready-to-drink’ category was stuck in the 1990s; bright, synthetic, calorific, sugarific.

We set out to convince millennials to reappraise the RTD shelf by understanding their lives beyond drinks. With lifestyles that blur boundaries between work and playtime, they tend to choose daytime pursuits over clubbing nights to optimise fun without compromising quality time.

RTD may appear old-fashioned, it did represent fun. What it lacked was the balance and product purity millennials seek.

So we launched Smirnoff Pure, made from vodka, soda and natural ingredients – that’s it! The product delivers on simplicity whilst the design delivers on codes of a balanced lifestyle.

As Bundaberg Lazy Bear became the top driver of RTD category growth last year, Smirnoff Pure became number two. Notably, 85% of consumers who tried it had never purchased a Smirnoff product before.

4. Dig deeper

The story of Johnnie Walker Pioneering Spirit Series

The Global Travel retail space is competitive; variety is vast and with restrictions on the number of alcoholic items consumers can buy the stakes are uniquely high. We wanted Johnnie Walker Blue Label to be the gift of choice for globetrotting consumers but knew that to stand-out and shift perception, we needed design to work much harder for us.

We dug deep when researching the souvenirs consumers were purchasing and discovered that they were not superficial representations of places but items of craft that represented the lives, pride and soul of a location.

The Pioneering Spirit Series was inspired by this. Each design captures culture through craft and collaboration, for a unique expression of a place. One of our first releases was the Hong Kong Limited Edition, crafted by illustrator Victo Ngai, who captured the essence of the city through a Cantonese Opera performer.

This design ethos has been replicated around the world, transforming the Pioneering Spirit Series into the biggest innovation range for Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

5. Leverage existing behaviours

The story of Guinness Indonesia Edition

St James’ Gate began exporting Foreign Extra Stout from Dublin to South East Asia as far back as the 1860s. Those 150 years saw the black stuff become much loved in Indonesia but by 2015 Guinness has begun to lose share and relevance.

Guinness was the after work, socialising staple for fathers and uncles who were drawn to its ‘macho’ attitude and international credentials, but their sons and daughters, the millennials of Indonesia, were less impressed.

To rejuvenate Guinness we gathered some of Indonesia’s most inspiring creative thought-leaders to collaborate on a new activation platform. We leveraged two existing Friday behaviours of drinking beer and wearing batik to create Guinness Batik Fridays. On National Batik Day 2015, we launched a limited-edition pack and ad that integrated different styles of batik, from different islands, to communicate Guinness in a whole new way.

The results of this platform was transformational. From having very low consumer relevance scores, our Indonesian market now scores the highest in the world for Guinness brand equity.

These are our 5 Principles and the stories behind them.

Great innovation doesn’t happen by sitting behind a desk or observations of focus groups in sterile settings. It happens when you live and breathe the occasion and when you authentically connect with your consumer.

Aimee Lewis is creative leader, APAC Innovation at Diageo.

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