Big Red is a soda brand that is one of the most popular in America's Southern states. Using marketing techniques like shortened commercials, quirky collaborations with the red-headed basketball player Matt Bonner and a creative series of webisodes, the company is competing with larger soda brands with its focus on an authentic drinking experience and through its use of humor.
Thomas Oh, SVP of Marketing at Big Red, recently spoke to Trend Hunter about how the brand innovates.
How does your team generate great ideas?
We monitor the marketplace, we’re a small company so we’re not going to be pioneers per se, but we’d like to be a “fast follower.” We’re constantly monitoring the different segments of the beverage industry and how can we bring something different to the table. For example enhanced water is growing phenomenally, but we have a product that actually has caffeine in it that will provide not just the refreshing benefit but also the energizing benefit. So we try to see what are seemingly, not the "flash in the pan" fads, but the meaningful trends – we’re not trying to create trends but determine what are the ones that will stick over the next five years.
What are some barriers to innovation and how do you get around them?
I think one of the barriers is just, we don’t want to have necessarily a "boom splat", we want to have a sustainable business and a sustainable brand. Deciphering what are the true growth opportunities versus what’s going to come and go. Aloe water for example is something that kind of peaked a couple years ago but now it’s very difficult to find distribution for that.
How do you identify trends and what resources does your team use to spot trends and insights?
We have a lot of grizzled veterans and we’re very close to our distributors. We have our finger on the pulse of new things that are popping up in different areas of the country whether it’s the west coast or the east coast, so we rely a lot on our bottling partners, our field sales. In that fashion I feel like we’ve got a decent pulse on beverage innovation. What I’m interested in is other types of innovation that could affect the marketing that we do, like promotion innovation. Mobile is becoming very popular, what are the trends that Millennials will be using or the different ways they engage with brands going forward. So it’s not just strictly product innovation that I’m interested in, or product trends, but it’s also just the market trends and the consumer trends.
Do you have specific rituals for resetting to be creative?
Admittedly not really. Maybe more being out in the field than being in our headquarter offices. I encourage myself and my team to get out as much as possible and talk to the people that are closest to the consumer, closest to the retailer. But other than that there’s no monthly or quarterly think tank, so to speak.
What are some examples of things you can do to create a culture of innovation?
I think embedding it in the way that we think. Here, we’re a smaller company so we don’t have the luxury per say of having a dedicated innovation person, but I’d like to embed it into each person’s job responsibility. It’s not just that we have to grow our existing base, but we need to be thinking two to three years down the road and build a product innovation pipeline. We’re starting to do that now.