It's a challenge to stand out in the food and beverage industry, but Tasha Sheridan, Strategy Consultant at Windsor-based 1HQ Brand Agency, vouches for the importance of experience in fostering a unique brand identity. She spoke with Trend Hunter via email about exploring for inspiration — whether on a running path, along the streets of London, or in the shops of China.
TH: How do you generate great ideas? Do you have certain rituals to make creativity happen?
TS: I spend most of my days trying to think of a unique and ownable positioning for a brand or what their 3-5 year innovation pipeline should be… so here are my top tips:
Understand the current category context — immerse yourself in the category (and analogous categories). See what’s new and exciting and see how other brands are talking, what they’re saying.
Look to the trend experts — see what they’re spotting and predicting and use this to inform your ideas
Speak to the consumer — have some hypotheses ready to test based on everything you’ve seen so far, but then really understand underlying drivers, barriers and most importantly, any unmet needs!
Think about your brand — not every product idea will work for every brand. It needs to feel like the right fit, or consumers won’t believe it. Identify your core brand attributes and your reason for existing on shelf, then play to this.
Overlaying this understanding of the brand, the consumer, and the category, in my experience, is the innovation sweetspot!
What are some barriers to innovation? How do you get around them?
Often a barrier to innovation is thinking “we’ve tried something like that before and it didn’t work”. Timing is so critical in innovation. Sometimes you can think of a great idea, launch it, and the world’s just not ready for it yet (particularly when using future-focused trends!), so you leave thinking maybe the idea wasn’t that great after all. Understanding your consumers' unmet needs before rushing into launch is vital.
You might also think “well that brand tried something similar and it didn’t work”. But every brand has a different meaning, a different story or purpose. It’s important to really understand what your brand stands for and launch products that feel like a genuine fit - stay true to your values. What’s wrong for one brand may actually make a lot of sense for yours, so don’t be put off by other brands failed innovation. It’s also always possible the design codes and cues on pack were just wrong (even though the product inside might have been great), so it didn’t resonate with the consumer in the current cultural context — getting your semiotic positioning correct is so important and often overlooked.
How do you identify trends? What resources do you and your team use to spot trends and insights?
At 1HQ we work primarily on food & drink innovation and brand strategy, so we have developed a close working relationship with The Food People. They’re a global trends agency who have trendspotters all around the world and we find their trendwatching website a great starting point for almost every project we work on! I’m also a big fan of an inspiration safari around London. Since London is such a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities this is reflected in the food offerings and so it seems to always be at the forefront of global food and drink trends and innovation. Every safari I go on, I discover exciting new products, brands, language etc. It’s also a great opportunity for clients not based so close to London to accompany us and see it all first hand. As it’s right on our doorstep, we’d be foolish not to explore!
Do you have rituals for resetting to be creative?
I write a lot of concept stories in my job and sometimes I’ll be sat at my desk and my hands just don’t know what to type. I find that if I go for a run in the park or on the treadmill at lunch, I return to the office, sit down, and I can’t type fast enough! Something to do with freeing your mind and blood flow to the brain — it works for me.
I’m also lucky enough to work in a creative agency, with designers, strategists, copywriters and comms experts all under one roof. Just grabbing one of each for a 10 minute brainstorm can deliver more ideas than half a day sat on your own trying to ideate.
Has there ever been an instance where another industry has influenced an innovation at your company?
I always look to other categories for inspiration! Of course it’s sometimes easier to see what the direct competitors are doing and if they’ve got a good idea to use it too, but you’re not going to be new news to the consumer or stand out on shelf if you just launch more of the same. I was recently in Copenhagen looking at Scandinavian design to inspire a new, convenient on-the-go soup container. Whilst exploring the fruit juice fixture I noticed how one bottle had been designed concertina style to collapse down after use for environmental reasons — whilst that’s great, I also thought this interesting structure would be very convenient for carrying around a hot soup on the move! I also noticed on the same trip, a moisturising lotion container that was the perfect structure for our product — so I picked that up too!
What are some examples of things you can do to create a culture of innovation?
It’s important to look outside of your day-to-day world. At 1HQ we have introduced ‘inspiration days’ where teams of different skillsets across the business go out for the day to take part in something seemingly random, but always creative. From bread-making classes at Borough Market to a graffiti class with a street artist, these days have been designed to spark creativity, tap into our curiosity and fuel our imagination…for us to bring back into the office to share and inspire.
Describe the future…
I think our clients are seeing the benefits of true strategic creativity. Sometimes a great idea can just come out of the blue, but to be sure a new idea is worth investing in, strategic upfront thinking is a must. With so many brands shouting for consumers' attention on shelf and retailers now choosing to scale back on the number of SKUs they want to stock in order to help with the ‘choice paradox’ consumers are facing, brands will need a strong, unique message to succeed (or get on to the shelf in the first place). In the future, I’m sure all brand consultancies will have to demonstrate strategic thinking and rationale — ‘jazz hands’ and a pretty picture will no longer be enough.
What’s the craziest thing you have done to get creative inspiration?
For a recent project, I was tasked with designing ‘the future of premium retail’ — in China! I’d never been to China before and speak no Chinese, so I hopped on a plane and sourced a local semiotician to take me on a guided tour of the most culturally emergent premium retail experiences. Having this ‘guru’ on the ground was invaluable. Not only could I witness the fascinating shopping culture of China, but the semiotician was able to explain along the way why it was like this. I believe there’s nothing better than immersing yourself in a market, a culture, in order to develop something that will truly resonate with the target consumer — educated guesses will only get you so far!