Word Up: Diageo's head of innovation Liz Finn

15 June, 2007

Nigel Huddleston Meets Diageo's head of innovation Liz Finn

Diageo has been having a clear- out. Just two months into her new job as head of innovation at Diageo GB, Liz Finn has decided to come clean about what's worked and what hasn't - as

well as hinting at what might be on the cards for the future.

It's a future that looks bright for products such as the Baileys flavours and Pimm's Winter, but one that won't include the RTD triumvirate of Quinn's, Archers Vea and Slate 20, nor J&B -6°C whisky in the UK market.

Finn has joined Diageo from the marketing agency Dragon - where she was director of packaging - and has a CV that's included marketing roles for Unilever and Schweppes. She was also managing director of the Future Brand global design consultancy.

She explains why and how tough decisions have to be made to make sure innovation hits the spot.

Spirits come with their own baggage

"To create something completely new is not impossible, but it's very hard to get people to accept it. Range extensions are a way to go because you borrow from the parent brand, but you need to make sure that it's a credible one that answers a consumer need and that fits the parent brand - not too far-fetched or too big a leap forward for consumers to make. Another way to do it might be to try to fake some authenticity, but you'll normally get found out. Getting new news in whisky is especially hard because it's normally based on old news like an existing malt. Consumers like brands with heritage and a sense of authority and provenance. You're always made aware of how long they've been around."

Things going wrong is part of trying

"We have to be bigger and braver about admitting when things don't work. Things not working is always disappointing. What we were trying to do behind Quinn's was absolutely right, and still might be right in terms of the intent and the insight, but we didn't pull it off this time. We were very confident in the product but there was a lot of new news to be communicated. We were trying to do several jobs. It's not that the communication was wrong, but it was hard and we didn't get it across sufficiently for it to work."

Consumers get bored

"It's very important to keep the main spirits categories interesting. Consumers have a portfolio of regular drinks they like but they get bored and want to try new things. What we have to be careful of is that we don't inundate them with too many innovations. To turn a market that's been in decline into growth is a big one, and it's not just about advertising. We're asking consumers to reconsider a category that they've already rejected, so the task is bigger than just finding money for above-the-line. It's a longer term issue, which is actually about changing people's attitudes."

Maybe we were too ambitious

"We set very big expectations for Quinn's and, as a result, so did the trade. When you're doing category-breaking stuff it often takes longer to be successful than when you're doing a range extension or a flavour. Against our criteria and benchmarking it didn't succeed. The targets we have to hit for anything new we launch are often higher than for other businesses. We have the scale to deliver but also bigger targets. Vea was launched well with support, but in terms of having created it as a sub-brand we don't think it has sufficient scale to keep it going. It's something that hasn't been successful in our terms, but with someone else's criteria it might have been.

You can't beat real life

"We try to take some of the people factors out of research. Live market testing in a real bar or shop, at the appropriate time, is the best form of research because it is real life. You minimise the risks of people trying to give you the answers they think you want.

"The opportunity is, instead of doing national launches, to put things out there and work with our customers to find out what's working and what's not, and see if we can put it right. A lot of things don't work, but once you've gone to a national launch it's very hard to fix it."

Keep the message simple

"We might have a quite complex product that we know is hard to make, but if you can't explain what it is to the consumer then you've got a bit of a problem.

"The great thing with Pimm's Winter is that it communicated itself and did the job for us. You say Pimm's Winter and you don't need three lines of copy underneath."

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