“Gatorade’s Innovation Journey: Powering athletes, empowering fans, and lifting brands”
When setting your innovation strategy, something I learned a long time ago is that you want to set out with a clear purpose in mind – and it aught to be one your “tribe” cares about/aspires to as well. This type of thinking is so core to our work at Beverage Marketing Association, that we’ve asked Gatorade – whose core mission has always help athletes at all levels perform at their best (which requires constant purpose-driven innovation) to deliver a keynote address on just this at the industry’s annual marketing & innovation forum, eBev, this fall in Las Vegas.
So does Gatorade support elite athletes, impress and empower a broader group of fans, and continue building equity in the Gatorade brand in the process? Well, we’re here with Chris Hintermeister who is Director of Ecosystems & Digital Platforms at Gatorade to find out! (And if you have questions or ideas of your own, please feel free to chime in at any time).
Chris, thanks so much for joining us today! We’re excited to dig in on this – and I’m sure it’ll set the stage for an incredible keynote at eBev 2019 in October.
Hi Seth, excited to chat with you today!
The innovation that I’ve been fortunate to work on has centered on a simple insight: every athlete is unique. From their physiology to the sports they play to how and when they train. With this simple truth in mind, around four years ago we started to develop an innovation platform called Gx to help professional, collegiate and elite teams better manage and optimize hydration and recovery for their athletes. With Gx, teams can track and monitor hydration as well as promote a fueling strategy that takes into consideration the athlete’s own physiology combined with the dynamics of their sport and activity, so duration, intensity and environment.
Through Gx, we combined hardware and software to build a physical weight station that the athlete interacts with to receive their hydration and recovery recommendations. We’ve also developed new bottle equipment, specifically a solution that tracks how much fluid the athlete drinks and also provides real-time guidance if too much or too little has been consumed based on the recommendation.
For consumers, we focused on commercializing two core Gx components, the concentrate pods and the customizable squeeze bottle that is required to use with the pods.
The Sweat Patch (and corresponding bottle/Gx pods) is an innovation that has turned a lot of heads. It’s a great idea – what led your team down this path in the first place? And what was the end vision/purpose?
Great question! One of the reasons we could advance the Gx agenda with professional teams is because we offer sweat testing through the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. By understanding sweat rates and sweat types for players, teams could use Gx to drive personalized recommendations. The reality of sweat testing is that it can be time, labor and resource intensive; ultimately, it’s not scalable. The idea of a smart sweat patch was conceived early on. We wanted the ability to democratize the process of sweat testing so we could reach more teams and eventually consumers at scale. In order to make personalized recommendations for hydration, we need to know how you sweat and the sweat patch is the key.
It’s very special to work on such a breakthrough innovation for the brand, we’re very excited about the sweat patch. That said, the bigger idea here is to drive education around hydration and recovery and to make recommendations that help everyday athletes become better.
The goal of serving each athlete’s body uniquely (with corresponding products) is a lofty but important one. I’ll use the analogy of serving the individual consumer through 1:1 marketing here…it’s not easy to share the right message with everyone (though we’re seeing amazing strides in AI + agile content). Can you tell us how you approached this?
I love this question because we’re in the midst of figuring it out so it’s very top of mind. Through the work of the Gatorade Sport Science Institute, we’ve translated the appropriate research and literature into a dynamic algorithm that can map fluid, carbohydrate and electrolytes to individuals based on their physiology and the specifics of their activity. So, while we know what athletes need, this may not be what they want. The nuance here is that we can easily recommend our products, but in order to truly serve the athlete we need to acknowledge that their individual preferences may require a form factor or food type outside of the Gatorade portfolio. In order to deliver a valuable utility to athletes we need to prioritize education and focus on delivering recommendations that the athlete can adopt. For example, based on preferences we could recommend a banana or a peanut butter & jelly sandwich to help satisfy the broader macro nutritionals we have identified the athlete needs. We do believe there is a way to authentically recommend and promote Gatorade products, but it is a balance.
We have embraced a lean startup approach and have built an MVP around the sweat patch and recommendation engine app that will be tested in September over a period of two weeks with consumers to validate our hypothesis. The goal is to learn and capture insights that will allow us to quickly refine the thinking and strengthen the utility of our service.
Going a step further, how do you then think about success when it comes to delivering equity back to the Gatorade brand?
We have multiple teams and tactics to help drive brand equity, so I can answer this one from the lens of innovation. Our brand started as an innovation, so it’s embedded in our DNA. Before we can deliver equity, which we achieve through storytelling in mass communications, targeted PR efforts and activations that touch our core consumer, we need to have value-added innovation we can talk about. In this regard, Gx has been an effective platform to help drive equity because 1) it was born in the lab (i.e., backed by science) and 2) it has been used by the Pros, with their insights incorporated throughout the process.
As a CPG company, most audiences are not expecting Gatorade to be advancing such an ambitious agenda involving technology, hardware, software and so on. Therefore, the reception surrounding Gx has been very positive and has helped reinforce our innovation brand credential. It does raise the bar for us, but that is a challenge that we are all up for!
Finally, we always like to end by looking ahead – and knowing you IRL, I’m really excited to pick the mind of such a smart and innovative thinker! Do you think future innovations (in technology, in how we fuel our bodies, etc.) will allow elite athletes exceed the current limitations of human performance?
Ha, that is not the future but the present! Innovation is a broad and loaded term, but no question that athletes have and will continue to surpass current performance. There are so many components in the performance equation—from biology to nutrition to training to coaching—and innovation is happening in all of them. From a fueling perspective, it wasn’t that long ago where the best athletes of the day could be seen smoking a cigarette on the sidelines. Fast forward to today and you can take a DNA test to better understand your metabolism and what macro-nutritionals to optimize in your diet.
I’m sure there are physics-based limits to what is possible in some regards (e.g., a human cannot run 50 mph), but the reason you continue to see records fall and older athletes perform at peak levels (Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, etc.) is tied to innovation. The knowledge, access to tools, resources and the ability to implement at a younger age are all drivers for advancing the performance boundaries. Now, if we’re talking about surpassing known physical limits then I think you need the science fiction stuff…bioengineering, endoskeletal structures, artificial intelligence…I’m sure at some point it will happen!