The Changing Face of Innovation


Seth Hillstrom (SH):

Business leaders, marketers…are we really being innovative, or are we just doing what’s next?  Here with us today to take a look at the changing face of innovation is Tina Wung, an industry veteran who has lead brands and global innovation for the likes of Anheuser-Busch, Mondelēz International, and more.  Tina, thank you for joining us today! 

Tina Wung (TW):

Thank you Seth for having me!


When we talk about innovation nowadays, people mean so many different things – but for our purposes, we’re talking about advancing the use of marketing (and peripheral) technology to achieve brands’ goals. And for all of the great wisdom we hear…. “establish a culture of innovation”, “don’t be afraid to fail,” etc….I think there are actually a lot of misconceptions. Can you share some conventional wisdom around innovation that you’ve found doesn’t hold water? And why?


Sure Seth, I definitely agree that there are misconceptions. I think some big misconceptions about innovation are around the ideas that it’s “tinkering without utility” and “innovation for innovation’s sake,” OR trying a variety of different things until you figure out what works in a very broad white space – ie, “Throw things at the wall and see what sticks.” While it’s true that in corporate innovation we begin with a very large sandbox to explore, more so than traditional business functions, the reality is that we approach it in a very strategic, focused way.

It is critically important to align innovation initiatives with key, corporate- supported strategic pillars that have very specific business challenges that technology can help solve. Similar to regular business operations, it is very important to establish informed hypothesis and set performance success metrics and milestones that you can track success, and then adapt to changes as needed. However, given that it is using new technology, obviously more flexibility and time must be given to learn and adapt to reach success.


Talking about the fluid nature of the term “innovation,” it makes me wonder how you would advise even going about defining what innovation looks like for your company? What are your primary and ancillary objectives?


Yes, the term innovation is so broad and can be defined in a number of ways. Being a part of the corporate innovation culture in the heart of Silicon Valley, I see the most common definition and application of innovation is leveraging the latest digital and technology trends and platforms to transform and elevate business operations to a level that will make us future-proof industry leaders. Some good practices I see in defining and activating innovation are:

1. Setting specific innovation mining areas for each function/team to focus on to reduce overlap (ie, Marketing focuses on consumer innovation, Operations focus on manufacturing innovation, Trade focuses on retail innovation, etc) and establish ways of working across teams.

2. Ensuring exploration of innovation initiatives that support the overall corporation goals and strategic pillars.

3. Establishing the level of innovation risk and investment tolerance. Some companies have a strong desire and resources for sustained investment and large payoffs and want to shoot for the moon, while others may be more risk averse and are satisfied with incremental change.

4. Establish how innovation will be measured. This is a common problem I see, where innovation initiatives are measured with the same KPIs, timelines, and expectations as proven non-innovation initiatives. Innovation initiatives should have different criteria, a longer lead time, and looser definitions of “success” – in general, more flexibility to iterate.

5. Bringing vendors and partners onboard when defining innovation goals so they know how they can add value, participate, and elevate their own innovation capabilities.

Despite these best practices in defining innovation, the most critical thing that can make or break innovation success at a company is whether the company has an organizational culture and executive support to drive innovation! I believe we will explore that in this interview shortly.


Wow, this is an amazing roadmap you’ve laid out! thank you!

From your presentations and guidance around our eBev conference, I know you believe in the power of a culture of innovation. How did you ensure that innovation was in the DNA at AB, and not only coming out of your office in Palo Alto? And what do you think is paramount to the success of other companies trying to do the same?


The most important criterion for success is to have executive leadership understand and believe in the necessity of innovation and resource it well. They must also understand that, as mentioned previously, innovation must be treated differently than day-to-day proven non-innovation initiatives. This executive support is critical as it shows the organization that, whether or not you’re working directly in an innovation role, innovation is a strategic necessity for success and everyone must get behind it.

After establishing strong executive support, it’s critical to establish clear ways of working and a strong sense of unity across innovation and non-innovation business teams. Many times corporate innovation teams work in silos from the business teams and have separate reporting structures, which make the scaling of innovation difficult and political. I believe that establishing shared targets, resource pools, and leadership across innovation and business teams to create a culture of shared success and desire for innovation. The same can be said for cross-functional innovation teams where their focuses may be very similar, and therefore establish shared goals to stimulate collaboration vs competition.

Another key way to ensure that innovation is part of the DNA at a company is hiring talent that is innovation-minded. More and more, I see companies identify and select people with non-traditional backgrounds, such as entrepreneurs or VCs or knowledge experts in a certain innovation area. Bringing in talent with a diverse mindset will challenge the companies’ traditional way of thinking and explore areas previously untapped.


You’ve directed the launch of many successful (and I’m sure sometimes unsuccessful) innovation projects. Based on a goal of creating the most long-term value for your company, if you had to choose launching either the campaign that generated the most powerful insights, or the one the created the strongest emotional tie to the brand, which would you select? Do you prioritize understanding your consumer or connecting with them?


I believe that a strong campaign is built upon powerful insights, so in order to connect with the consumer, you must first understand them. I do think that a great campaign, while based on powerful insights that you already knew about your consumer, simultaneously has the power to unlock even more insights that you may not have intended. The explosion of digital platforms has made listening to and understanding consumers infinitely easier, and as long as companies leverage those tools and hear their consumers, they have a myriad of insights to build successful campaigns, products, services, and messaging on.

Sometimes in innovation (going back to the common misconceptions we discussed earlier), you may launch something because the technology trends is exploding and you don’t want to miss the boat. This is the time where I have seen campaigns or activations executed that are founded on weak consumer insight. In my experience, these campaigns are short-lived and you are forced to reassess the fundamental consumer insight and ensure that you are truly solving a problem that will make his/her life better. That again is another lesson that you can’t just innovate to innovate, it always needs to go back to a business or consumer challenge.



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