Application of Business Research to Enhance Innovation

3418 words (14 pages) Business Assignment

20th Apr 2020 Business Assignment Reference this

Tags: Business AssignmentsBusinessInnovationUnilever

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Section 1

This assignment focuses on business achievements, which may be obtained through the application of modernized research techniques in foods and beverage industry. To expand on my ideas, I will use the Unilever for this paper. Unilever is a dual-listed multinational cooperation which manufactures and sells not only food and beverage but other cleaning and personal care products. Unilever consists of two main subsidiaries which include Unilever NV in Rotterdam and Unilever PLC in London.

Unilever owns a wide range of products which is one of the main reasons why I have decided to choose it. With the possibilities and needs for further growth, it is essential to clearly understand marketing strategies and possible customers’ reactions. Besides, understanding competitors and possible ways of acquiring competitive advantage is critical. I would therefore like to venture into this industry as a sales or marketing manager, and thereafter become a senior manager. Based on my learnings, I will be able to attract customers, recognize operational innovations and effectively plan for the future.

It is observed that the food and beverage industry face many challenges related to customers, innovation and future sustainability. Starting with the customers’ issues, an observation is made that food manufacturing industry is currently going through a difficult time in strategizing to up the prices. The major reason facilitating the need to up the prices is the rising commodity costs. It is noted that customers are increasingly become cautious on how they spend their limited resources while making purchases. Fleming (2018) reported that with the ‘Brexit and other political uncertainties, consumers could become more careful with their spending and as such, Unilever will need to be mindful of the balance between value and volume sales’.

Concerning technology and innovations, the main challenge face by Unilever seems to revolve around ensuring more environmentally friendly manufacturing processes. This means that Unilever as a company will need to invest in more efficient technology, so energy is used wisely. There have been attempts to develop plants that can generate electricity by using recycled waste hot water and steam. However, Unilever must take more steps under innovation to be better placed.

Looking at the future of Unilever industry, it is noted that there are many sustainability challenges. The biggest sustainability challenge is the need to move beyond the use of Green Palm certificate like carbon offsets and palm oil. This is because it is anticipated that there may be no more sufficient forests left beyond 2030 to support more production.  Besides, there may be “No deforestation” targets credible for a few years down the line from today.

Business Enhancement: Customers, Innovations and the Future

Businesses may use research to improve understanding of their customers, competitors, needs for innovation and ways to effectively strategize for the future sustainability. A business enhancing research is one which provides a business with a clear understanding of the three-dimensional pillars i.e.an understanding of customers, innovation and the future. Being innovative is the most important way to ensure that a business grows. This is complimented by improving processes all around which in turn improves performance and leaves room for new products and services to be introduced to the market. Proper research helps reel in new ideas which bring a whole new level of expertise to any business that is wanting to grow. To demonstrate how research may be applicable in enhancing businesses, I am going to use three articles, and show how Unilever may use the articles in achieving a better understanding of customers, innovations and strategies for future sustainability.

Article One and its Relevance

Herein, I am going to show how businesses may be enhanced through research related to customers. The article I will focus on is Selden, L. and MacMillan, I. (2006). Manage customer-centric innovation-systematically. Harvard Business Review, 84(4), p.108. To effectively show that the concepts outlined in this article may be applicable in enhancing a business, I will use the case of Unilever. More specifically, I will illustrate how the ideas discussed in this article may be applicable in enhancing business at Unilever company. Selden and MacMillan (2006) argue that a clear understanding of the customers is essential for the growth of companies and industries as a whole. It is worth demonstrating that customers display different behavior in terms of buying and consumption. Besides, customers tend to be price-sensitive and therefore, companies have to strategize on how to effectively price their products to facilitate more purchases. It is argued that the approaches of companies to innovation barely grow as expected no matter how hard they try because of the difference between the content of the business plans and the expectations of the markets (Selden & MacMillan, 2006). They also argue that most companies tend to invest on research and development instead of focusing on what customers want and using the results to push for innovation. This leads to the observation that most companies that invest in research and development (R&D) stay starved both for innovations relating to customers and growth of the market capitalization. It is therefore important that the innovation process meets or exceeds the expectation in the market to facilitate the general growth of an industry.

How can a company achieve a customer centric innovation? What are some of the benefits that Unilever would gain when it eventually adopts innovation that focuses on customer centricity as presented by Selden & MacMillan (2006)? Notably, it is observed that to achieve customer centric innovations, the marketing research should be placed at the center of all research and development to enable companies understand their customers better. A better understanding of the customers may be achieved by enhancing better ways of sharing the value proposition and providing satisfactory experiences to the customer. One of the challenges faced by Unilever manufacturing company is creation of a wider customer base for the products. As such, an argument presented by Selden & MacMillan (2006) asserting that company employees at the frontline ought to be at the core of the customer centric innovation (CCI), to enhance efficient learning and understanding of customers through testing with different segmentations, value schemes and delivery mechanisms becomes vital in enhancing business. Companies that use customer centered R & D often gain basic knowledge and better understanding of customers as compared to their competitors. Selden & MacMillan (2006) also state that Tumi, a retail brand ‘focused on extending the company’s capabilities into new products for its existing core segments’ (Selden & MacMillan 2006, p. 5). Therefore, through research, Tumi successfully launched a ‘line of office-use products, including a soft, expandable briefcase and portfolio case line that now constitutes more than 25% of the company’s business’ (Selden & MacMillan 2006, p. 5). Unilever as a company needs to understand the kind of research Tumi conducted, and how it placed its senior managers during the study, to come up with a successful product launching.

Article Two and its Relevance

I would like to illustrate the importance of marketing which will help understand the consumer, enhance innovation and strategise for the future. The article I am going to focus on is Dawar, N. and Bendle, N. (2018). Marketing in the Age of Alexa. Harvard Business Review, 96(3), pp.80-86. CCI has been found to be more than a strategy since it is built on a belief, that success obtained by the customers and the employees also means success for the entire company. In the case presented by Dawar and Bendle (2018), it is there is need to advance from being product centric to customer centric due to certain mind sets. During the process of establishing and developing the core it is vital that companies ascertain the main customer segments then establish the best value prepositions exceeding the expectations of buyers. Dawar and Bendle (2018) note that in the age of Alexa, there is need for companies to develop artificial intelligence technology, which they argue will be essential in helping consumers develop their increased number of choices.  It is also argued that the value prepositions ought to be established in such a way that it denotes the full experience of customers inclusive of interaction with the company, services and products (Dawar and Bendle, 2018). This step is essential in dealing with the challenge regarding customers negative perceptions about Unilever company or its products. Besides, it also may be applicable in creating a wider customer base since it ensures that customers receive value for their purchases and that they are always satisfied. Nonetheless, it is vital that Unilever establish all the sub-segment and the technological advancements to sharpen the association between the needs of customers and the desires of the company to generate more profit, to ensure future sustainability.

Article Three and its Relevance

For a company to be successful in the future, it must project its strategies. In this section therefore, I am going to focus on the need for strategy and, the ways in which companies may strategize to remain competitive in the future. To achieve this, I will narrow down to look at one article by Camillus, J. 2008. Strategy as a wicked problem. Harvard business review86(5), p.98. It is observed that technology may keep on growing and as such, it becomes important for companies to develop defensive mechanism such as partnering with other companies in the process of responding to threats (Camillus, 2008). In addressing disruptive threats, it is vital that a company’s R&D team work towards establishing any possible shifts in technology and identifying potential innovations which may keep the threats at bay. The cost of establishing innovations to handle all potential threats may be higher than the company can handle. Through partnering with other companies, it may be possible that companies re-invent and produce new products without having to develop anything from scratch every time, thereby reducing production cost.  Unilever may take such a step to reduce the risks of being eliminated in the markets, especially under circumstances such as when palm oil is depleted. Furthermore, as presented by Camillus (2008), Unilever may strategize by sustaining customers R&D which involves engaging both the customers and the company employees. This is advantageous since it will enable Unilever to expand its knowledge of patrons while allowing employees to be engaged by contributing their insight as well as energy. By implication, this will give Unilever room for attaining success together with customers, which by far, will provide an actual meaning of being customer centric. This too will provide better chances for the growth of Unilever in the future since it limits all the possibilities of customers developing negative perceptions towards the company or its products.

Section 2

How the Research Strategies and Techniques Could be Used to Improve a Business Customer Value Proposition at Unilever

The three research strategies include research aimed at understanding customers, creating innovations and understanding the future are applicable in many ways, in the process of improving business value proposition as well as customer value proposition. Customer value proposition (CVP) in simple terms refers to a promise of service delivery from a business to a potential customer which determines whether they engage with the business or not (James, Narus and van Rossum, 2006). It highlights what the product offers a customer to help ease their situation or solve their problem. A highly effective CVP helps a customer differentiate between the same product offered by different companies. The promise of value often comes as a solution that is offered by a business to assist a customer in solving a problem.  Through the CVP, a theory for the existence and survival of businesses and companies have been drafted.  By implication, CVP provides for the adding of extra values to a company’s product. Basing on the fact that there is high rate of competition in the market from firms which provide the same products, CVP enables companies to further differentiate products from one another, thus assisting customers to make independent choices based on their perception of the most valuable brands and products, capable of providing them with the most diverse benefits.

The three research strategies discussed above may be significant in improving value proposition in many ways. To start with, looking at the research aimed at understanding customers, it may be argued that businesses ought to offer importance to their target markets by obtaining all the right information of customer requirements which in turn will assist in creating the best possible solutions to problems that their customers are facing. This research can be done in many ways some of which fall under multiple theoretical and practical methods. Surveys is more often a good way of conducting that research (Camillus, 2008). Unilever can use platforms like surveys to understand what the consumer wants when producing and launching a product. This is vital as is helps the company know more about the product or service they are offering as well as the benefits that a potential customer can gain. It is also important that companies come up with multiple ways they can use to promote the benefits of the products they offer to get the consumer interested. Companies like Unilever need to know their competitors in addition to all the advantages and disadvantages that their own brand, so they can show innovation and improvements to stay current in the market. Lastly, before launching, it is important to ensure proper advertising to create hype and awareness within their target market. The best promotions are done by a highly satisfied customers word of mouth. This can be achieved by ensuring the right balance between cost and experience. An imbalance in between cost and experience ties directly back to the bottom line which is high sales to maintain profits.

The main distinction for customers regarding a product or services comes from quality and price. The most important inclusions in an effective customer value proposition should be aimed at understanding not only the consumer but also the future so companies like Unilever can remain innovative. It is observed that through a better understanding of the customers, a firm may be able to create a better competitive advantage over the competitors since, it may not be easy for the competitors to easily understand the needs of the loyal customers or imitate them. Attaining better competitive advantage over the competitors places a company at a better position for the future growth and existence. Things like pricing, look and feel, packaging etc. will give a company competitive advantage. With the advancement of technology, getting information like that directly from the consumer is easy and gives a company like Unilever the added advantage to stay ahead of the competition. This implies that consistent research on understanding customers better is necessary. In addition to a strong Customer Value Proposition is an effective Employee Value Proposition. Having the right workforce can help drive sales and help a company gain competitive advantage over their rivals. An employee who is enthusiastic about the brand they are working for can champion the product or service to potential customers which adds higher value to a company. It is therefore important to conduct consistent research on understanding customers, understanding the future of a company and establishing better innovations to create more value propositions, gain competitive advantage and acquire longer operational existence.

According to James, Narus and van Rossum (2006), the three types of value propositions include benefits value propositions, favorable points of difference value propositions and resonating focus value propositions. To start with, all benefits value proposition constitutes an assurance list of all the possible benefits a company believes that its products may provide to the targeted customers. Under this, the more benefits the company may think of and compose, the better it may be placed before their customers. This approach is believed to demand little knowledge concerning the customers and the competitors and therefore, it requires the least amount of work to construct. The second is the favorable points of difference, which acknowledges the fact that customers have alternatives. The third type is the resonating focus which, identifies the fact that managers who are ate the center of making purchasing decisions incur major and increasing responsibility levels and thus, are always pressed for time.  It is argued that once a company has obtained the necessary attention it requires from the target market through the use of CVP, it may then expand its sales volume and gain more profits in addition to the number of consumers. For a company to obtain an effective CVP, there are certain strategies it must put in place and observe. To start with, it would be crucial for a company to analyze and understand its customers and their needs, understand the nature of competition and, the company’s strength to remain exceptional.

Currently, the Company in which I intend to work at makes use of all benefits value proposition. Herein, it is observed that that the managers in charge often list all the possible benefits which may result from any given product. This view of proposition requires little information and is therefore easier to compose by the management. It is also less time consuming and my save costs of production research. Since the more values management lists, the better the position the company gains in the sight of the buyers, it is important that the management outsources all the relevant benefits of any given product.  Although this value proposition is easier to construct, it has many weaknesses. To start with, is the possibility of data assertion.  Since the more the values managers attach on the assurance list, the better the company becomes placed before their customers, there is a possibility that managers may claim more advantages and include features which do not offer any benefits advocated for to the customers. This value proposition may have may have many of its benefits as points of equivalence like those of the intended best alternative, thus diluting the genuine points of difference (James Narus and van Rossum, 2006).   Besides, since this value proposition requires the least information concerning the customers and the competitors, it is most likely that the possibility of gaining a larger customer base and the best competitive advantage may be limited.

References

  • Camillus, J.C., 2008. Strategy as a wicked problem. Harvard business review86(5), p.98.
  • Dawar, N. and Bendle, N., 2018. Marketing in the Age of Alexa. Harvard Business Review96(3), pp.80-86.
  • James, A., Narus, J. and van Rossum, W., 2006. Customer value propositions in business markets. Harvard Business Review84(3), pp.1-10.
  • Selden, L. and MacMillan, I.C., 2006. Manage customer-centric innovation-systematically. Harvard business review84(4), p.108.
  • Fleming, M. (2018). The five challenges facing Unilever’s new CEO. [online] Marketing Week. Available at: https://www.marketingweek.com/the-five-challenges-facing-unilevers-new-ceo/ [Accessed 11 Aug. 2019].

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