Innovation Through Incremental Change

This podcast was originally recorded in August 2019. 

Brand perception is one of the most instrumental keys to consumer success. We’ve all been there — scrolling endlessly until something catches our attention and draws us in. Sometimes, we buy particular products based on appearance — it’s not always the quality that influences our buying decisions. Sometimes, the brands that are quickest to build appeal or answer questions are the ones to influence buying decisions. 

Max Juster, Brand Director at Anheuser-Busch (most famously known for Budweiser), has experienced this first-hand.

In this episode of Venture unscripted. Josh Barker, CEO of City Innovations, sat down with Max to learn how pivoting and making small changes to their packaging changed their end-users’ perception of their brand.

Dive in by listening to the podcast video by clicking here or keep scrolling to read the podcast recap.

How it All Started

Throughout his career at Anheuser-Busch, Max has had many different roles — from leading digital marketing and product rollouts, to creating a sales innovation strategy by ensuring new brands are going to market the right way. Now, he leads the company’s high-end brands like Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, and their craft beer portfolio. 

Throughout each of his roles at Anheuser-Busch, innovation has been a huge part of cultivating success and creating value for its consumers. 

“Innovation is all about adding value to the consumer… It can be something small and minor. Even a small tweak to packaging can make a world of difference to the consumer. And if you’re able to drive value for your consumers, you’re going to drive value for your company as well,” stated Max. 

When putting this into practice, Max explained how an incremental change in one of their beer cans made a huge difference in their customers’ perspective. 

“When I was on the Mexican imports [team for] Estrella, we were looking at our can and trying to figure out how can we make it nicer. We did a competitive analysis, looked at Modelo’s gorgeous bottle, and it tested significantly better than Estrella. It was more appealing because of [its] gold wrap. But then we realized the majority of Mexican imports are actually sold in cans. Why don’t we try to improve our can?” Max said.

From that, Max and his team came up with the idea to make their own can look nicer by adding an outer seal to the top. 

“We thought, if 70% of the consumption is in the cans, we should probably innovate on the cans and make our difference there — that way we’re not just being a follower. We can actually be a leader and bring something with value.”

“The thought with the cans is if you go into some of these convenience stores, it might be a little bit dirty, a little bit dusty. The last thing you want to do is take that can and put it right to your lips. Having that little seal to peel off makes it a little bit nicer, a little bit more enjoyable,” Max explained. 

So, what was the result of this incremental, innovative change? 

Max stated that when they compared their packaging with Modelo, their cans were perceived as the more premium brand. This was a huge win for the company based on the small tweak made to the packaging.

The Importance of Understanding Your Consumers and Moving Fast

Max also explained that driving incremental, innovative change comes from understanding your consumers. What are your consumers drinking? What do your consumers want to drink? Is there a gap in the market? And if so, how can you fill that gap?

Once those things are determined, Max stated that it’s important for their company to try to pilot solutions fast so they can learn quickly and make those incremental changes as they receive feedback.

When Anheuser-Busch first launched Patagonia (a beer from Argentina) in Colorado, they quickly took it to market in order to start collecting information on their consumers’ perceptions. 

“We just started asking consumers, ‘What do you think? What do you like about this packaging? Could it be better? Is it communicating the messages we want to communicate?’ [Then we took] that feedback [and] change[d] it,” said Max. 

With only being launched just under a year ago, Patagonia is now on its third packaging because of the feedback it received.

Continually asking for customer feedback to understand their perspective and moving fast has allowed for continuous innovative, incremental changes for success within Anheuser-Busch. 

Communication is Key

Another key to innovation and incremental change is having great communication. 

“The key to good innovation is communication and it’s not just communication with the innovation team. I think this sometimes is where people may get lost… If there’s anything you could do to just have a little bit more glue, that’s awesome feedback that we need to know,” explained Max.

Max went on to state the 3 types of people that you should always be communicating with: 

  1. Your retailers who are going to sell your product.
  2. Your consumers who are going to buy your product. 
  3. Your frontline staff who are going to be promoting your product. 

Max explained that communicating with these three groups allows each person to understand why the company is launching the innovations that they are, but most importantly — it allows the company themselves to determine if they think those innovations will work and if they’ll be willing to get behind them.

Continue Learning

Want to learn more about how Anheuser-Busch is implementing incremental change? Click here to listen to the full podcast.

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