Mars Goes Beyond Brands, Opens Up Innovation Efforts

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Over the many years that I have been working with open innovation, I have noticed that one company just seems to want to do things differently.

This company is Mars. Yes, the company with strong consumer brands such as M&Ms, Snickers, Pedigree, Whiskas, Skittles, Dolmio and many others.

The thing about Mars is that they have always acted as if they want to do things by themselves. They would even say so when you got a chance to speak with them although this happened rarely as they almost never attend conferences where you could exchange insights and experiences. This was quite unusual as the fast moving consumer industry is one of the most matured industries when it comes to open innovation and an industry that has been very open with their efforts.

Well, the open innovation paradigm shift is definitely shaking things up and Mars is about to change their approach. Now, they have just launched a new innovation portal called InnovateWithMars.

The portal looks nice although traditional. What’s interesting are the challenges that Mars is about to face. First, you should read these statements from the portal:

“As a privately owned company, we have traditionally communicated more about our brands than about ourselves as a business. But, today people want to know more about the businesses they choose to support.”

“In today’s ever changing world, the process for managing External Innovation is vital to continue and progress our business. Through connection and collaboration we can achieve mutual benefits by achieving results faster, better and more while each keeping our own strategic development, consumer insights and technology bases. We would like to share our expertise, knowledge and experience to support your idea and create faster, better results, benefiting us both.”

The latter is similar to statements that most of Mars’ competitors have made for years. The first statement is a key reason why Mars gets into the game this late.

If I were to help Mars as an external consultant, I would be very intrigued to look into a set of questions that evolve around perception.

What is the internal perception of Mars’ corporate innovation capabilities?

What do current and potential innovation partners think of Mars when it comes to innovation?

What can Mars do to manage, align and improve these perceptions?

Perceptions are important as they can make or break your open innovation initiatives at the early stages. They need to be attended both internally and externally.

Of course, the biggest challenge for Mars is that you cannot fake it for very long. If your company is not ready for open innovation, it will show no matter how well you manage these perceptions. So getting your innovation teams – and the entire organization – ready to embrace external input to the innovation process is even more important than managing the perceptions.

I think Mars has a huge challenge because of their historically closed approach to doing business.

Is it too late for Mars to really reap the benefits of open innovation? On their new innovation portal, they state these benefits like this:

“Mars is already starting to realize the benefits of External Innovation and the results it can produce, including FASTER acceleration of delivery of business solutions, BETTER access to a wider range of knowledge and technology to develop advanced business solutions and access to MORE business solutions by using the same resources.”

Are they too far behind their competitors or are their brands strong enough to give them a second chance? The jury is out. We will just have to wait and see.

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