Anheuser-Busch innovation executives say that in order to excel at coming up with new ideas, you have to discard your own and listen to what real people want.
When most people think of Anheuser-Busch, what comes to mind are its most famous American beers—Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob, and the like. But these days, the company is a global beverage company that controls dozens of brands, including Stella Artois, Becks, Bass, Boddington’s, and Rolling Rock.
It’s also home to numerous smaller, craft beer brands. And Anheuser-Busch says it’s always looking for new ideas, new beers it can launch at both massive and small scales, and that means coming up with new ways of doing things.
That’s what about 50 Fast Company Innovation Festival guests were hoping to learn about when they came to the company’s New York commercial strategy center Monday for a talk on how Anheuser-Busch innovates and attempts to stay ahead of the competitive curve.
Doing so means understanding what consumers want, and not getting stuck in old ways of thinking, Felipe Szpigel, president of the high end, Sandro Basil, vice president of people, and Jodi Harris, head of consumer insights stressed during the panel discussion.
When done well, it can mean great ideas can be collected, and acted on, in extremely short periods of time. Harris said that it can traditionally take 18 months to launch a new product, and recently, she and her colleagues found themselves with just two weeks for the ideation phase for some future products.
“We rolled our sleeves up, and we went across the country,” Harris recalled. “We spoke to over 200 consumers…and came up with over 50 branded ideas that stretched across products…motivation, and what we call ‘passion points.’”
“And what would have taken about six weeks to do,” Harris explained, “took about a week, and we were able to turn it into…a plan.”
The key to that was breaking the company’s traditional processes, she argues. “You’re not going to learn something different or listen to consumers a different way if you’re following your instincts,” she says. “You’ve got to be able to break the mold a little….It’s exciting, it’s a little bit painful, it’s a little scary, but that’s what innovation is all about.”
And the result of this mold-breaking listening tour? Harris says Anheuser-Busch has 10 new innovations coming out over the next year. Stay tuned, and stay thirsty.