Diageo & Brand Innovation

Former Innovation Director at Diageo

Why is this interview interesting?

  • The essence of brand innovation from a product and marketing standpoint
  • How Diageo rolled out Johnnie Walker's premium Double Black line
  • Diageo's 'Gate Process' to analyze potential brand innovation ideas
  • How Coca-Cola approached innovation versus Diageo
  • Traps young marketeers fall into when pitching brand innovation ideas
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Executive Bio

Alicia Garcia

Former Innovation Director at Diageo

Alicia has over 23 years experience in marketing and innovation for leading global brands. She started her career as a brand manager at P&G before joining Coca-Cola as Marketing Manager in Spain. Alicia then joined Diageo in 2003 as Marketing Director for J&B, a global leading scotch brand, before being promoted to Innovation Director where she spent 7 years leading Diageo’s European Innovation agenda. Alicia is now Associate Professor at IE Business School where she teaches Integrated Marketing Communications. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Alicia, could you explain what the role of an innovation function is, within a big brand group, like Diageo?

Innovation is the way to keep your brand fresh and relevant with consumers. Consumers are, I think, are promiscuous. We live in an era where there are tremendous offers and we’re all inclined to try new things and to experiment with new things. In big corporations, like Diageo, that have hundreds of years of history – the brand of Guinness is over 250 years old – unless you innovate and keep your brand fresh and relevant, you’ll soon be outdate, as a brand.

I think it’s also the way to respond to some of the new challenges that we see now. For instance, we are now seeing a big focus on saleability and innovation to improve the footprint of brands and other impacts on the environment and sustainability. All these things are also driven through innovation. So ways to keep your brand relevant, with consumers and also, ways to respond to some of the challenges that we are facing, in society.

How are the teams structured, internally?

The structure has changed, quite significantly. Again, it’s a moving feast. As innovation has become more relevant, I think companies have adapted their role. You could argue, actually, that almost everybody is part of the innovation department. For instance, before in brands, there wasn’t an innovation team. Innovation was a totally separate team and now brands have, within them, people who are responsible for innovation, for keeping that brand relevant.

There is also innovation that is a bit more transformational or substantial and there is a big department that takes care of that. That department was, initially, geographically based and it was about finding needs in certain geographies and developing projects that would reply to those needs. But then the realization was that that ended up in very small projects. In fact, consumers aren’t that different, between countries. They ended up creating big platform groups, becoming experts on certain things. For example, lower ABV – lower alcohol – or new drinking experiences, or something like that, were tackled by groups.

Innovation was tackled almost in a matrix structure – from a brand perspective and also from a challenge perspective.

Now they have an innovation team/person in the actual brand. What’s their role? What do they actually do, on a day to day basis, in that brand?

Some are incremental innovations, so something that would keep your brand refreshed, which is probably not very complicated. Although it’s key to stay very close to the mother brand, that would be tackled within the brand the team. Whereas something that is either the launch of a new brand or of a technology that is much more challenging or something that can work across brands, like a new format, would be developed by that separate team, to actually benefit from all that knowledge and apply it to the different brands.

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