Heineken – Innovation is about more than just invention.

Innovation is about more than just invention. Breakthrough products are important, but great innovation is also about finding new ways of doing things. We spoke to Rebecca Haigh, Head of Innovation at Heineken, to get to the heart of what makes successful innovation.


What are the key ingredients for successful innovation?

A successful business should be innovating in all areas at all times, continually looking at how they can operate more efficiently to add tangible value to their customers. At Heineken, we regularly run innovation challenges that are open to everyone across all areas of the business, with the purpose of encouraging innovation. For us, innovation can be as simple as developing a different way of serving one of our existing beers in a pub! In fact, innovations such as these can be particularly valuable because they don’t require the big investments in development or manufacturing that product innovations do.

What’s essential before you start?

You need to ensure that you have clear strategy set up that everyone is aligned on. Then, define what’s needed to capture the right ideas and guide them through the process funnel. With innovation, it’s not coming up with ideas that’s the problem – it’s determining which ones can succeed and which will have the biggest impact on the business. We can’t pursue them all, so we have to use insights to be selective and identify those ideas that have real potential.

Is there a specific process that you follow when it comes to innovating?

We find the stage-gate process to be very successful. We use it as a tool to gain cross functional alignment at each stage of development – gate 0 for ideation through to gate 6 for evaluation.

"For us, innovation can be as simple as developing a different way of serving one of our existing beers in a pub!"

Rebbeca Haigh, Heineken

How can you avoid a fast fail?

Test and learn – bigger businesses sometimes struggle here. Choose wisely – There can be many great ideas, but decide which ones will really make the best impact and recognise that some may take a few years to grow. Also, be sure to truly understand your customer. When, where and how do they engage with your business and what it offers? What drives their decisions? What really excites them about what you offer, and what frustrates them?

Final take-away?

Successful innovation should focus on driving penetration and value for you and your customers. That can mean changes to the way a product is positioned, marketed or described that may seem small, but can in turn be highly significant. At Heineken there are always lots of ideas that could be implemented, but we need to ensure we choose the ones that will really make the difference. Lastly, innovation can rely on many resources but it’s value is incremental, so be sure to demonstrate its impact on the overall business strategy.