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According to Harsh Mariwala, the biggest barrier to innovation is the fear of failure.

“For the innovation to be successful, there should be diverse people in the talent pool and they have to be empowered. Brands should hire young people who are not afraid of failure,” says Harsh Mariwala, Chairman Marico Ltd and Founder Marico Innovation Foundation.

Edited Excerpts:-

Why has innovation become an invariable part of any retail organization?

We started the Marico Innovation Foundation in 2003 and at that time I benefitted a lot at Marico and whenever we innovated, we saw an impact on our business and since then the business has become far tougher and more competitive. It is a highly competitive business environment and if you have to be differentiated in the marketplace, you have to be competitive and innovation can bring in the differentiation. It is very important to be innovative, but you have to innovate on a perpetual basis. You can not say that the brand will do one innovation and stop because, in a matter of time, others will copy. Not only for retail but for any business innovation is the game and today innovation is on the top of the agenda for any CEO. For example, Domino’s innovated by delivering pizzas within a certain timeline, so it became a talking point.

I remember, many years back Taj, Mumbai had a restaurant called Zodiac and they innovated by not giving the bill to the consumers, instead, they asked the consumers to pay whatever they feel like. Maybe they did it for a certain period but more importantly, people started talking about it and started trusting the brand. Sometimes, innovation can have a multiplier effect.

Do you think that brands today should create a pool of funds dedicated to innovation?

I do not think that it is necessarily connected with funds. It is a myth that innovation requires money. Of course, if one has to do some basic research in a certain area then one needs money but otherwise, one needs good ideas and refine them and talk it the customers, prototype them, experiment with them, and then scale up. I think the key here is not money but it is the culture of innovation and how brands can drive a culture of innovation in their organisation.

How can new-age brands create a culture of innovation?

For the innovation to be successful, there should be diverse people in the talent pool and they have to be empowered. Brands should hire young people who are not afraid of failure. The fear of failure is the biggest hindrance to innovate. The key thing is to take risks, experiment, and not be afraid of failure, and then on top of that, you need to have a culture of openness and trust because innovation happens through dialogues with other people. It is not one man’s idea.

How does this culture of innovation impact the brand’s performance?

A brand can do multiple small innovations. It can be an innovation in the way a brand advertises, distribution, or maybe anything else. It all depends on how big is that innovation. For example, we did an innovation at Parachute many years back where we converted the whole packaging from tins to plastic helped us gain a lot of market share. So, a lot depends on how big is the innovation and does it have traction with the consumer. Innovation can be small, but what matters is that a brand should not say that we need no innovation. Every organisation needs a culture of innovation where people go on thinking differently and within that, the brands can get big innovations also.

You have always insisted on coming up with new ideas, experimenting with and iterating on them. How does it help a retail company grow vertically and horizontally?

A lot depends on what is the focus of that retail company. Vertical growth or horizontal growth – the retail brand has to figure out on its own. Whatever the brand decides to pursue whether vertical growth or horizontal growth, it should focus on how to create differentiation as compared to its competitors and it could be the customer experience that the brand is offering to the consumers. For example, the seamless checkout experience introduced at the Amazon stores. The key thing is to add value to customers.

How can retail companies ensure innovation across products, packaging, pricing, supply chain, talent management, and business models?

It need not be the whole chain where the innovation should take place, but it should happen where ever the opportunities are. Depending on what the brand is doing, brands can innovate to change their cost, change packaging, or change the weight of the products offered. It needs not be whole supply chain innovation, it can be a part of it also. The brands should identify those opportunities and leverage upon those opportunities. For a retail brand, it is very important to track what is happening in other markets. Brands can get insights by visiting different markets or by doing simple internet-based research and brands can get many ideas to experiment. For example, D-Mart’s business is very different as it offers reasonable pricing and has it own real estate. So, the business model is based on innovation.

What next innovation can we expect from Marico?

We do innovation on a perpetual basis in terms of new products we have done a lot of innovation We launched masala oats and now we launched ragi snacks and soya bhurji.



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