by: Chris Lawer

Kraft chief executive Roger Deromedi has just announced the second phase of its open innovation strategy, InnovatewithKraft. The invitation, as the new website explains, is as follows: ...

Do you have a new product or packaging idea that you think might be valuable to Kraft Foods? At Kraft, our Innovations Team welcomes these new ideas, and sincerely hopes that you choose to share your ideas with us.

Looks teriffic in principle until you realise the strict rules that are being applied to the ideas sought and the process for submitting them. I won’t repeat them all here but this statement sums up the general Kraft attitude:

Each year, Kraft receives many ideas from people and organizations outside our company. While we are always interested in new ideas, you should know that most of what we receive (or will receive in the future) is not (or will not be) new to us. This is because, as you might guess, Kraft has a large staff of scientists and marketers who are continuously working to develop and improve our products, packaging and processes. Therefore, many submissions from "outside" Kraft actually duplicate Kraft's current or past research and development efforts. Many other ideas simply fall outside the scope of our business interests.

Doesnt that statement come over as well a tad arrogant? Well, as Kraft receives so many obviously worthless ideas, the company now only wants to receive ideas that are beyond concept stage – that is, ideas for products, packaging and business processes or systems that are almost market-ready. My guess is that the likelihood of anything useful turning up is limited at most.

But then again, I see they are inviting invitations for new business processes.  Hmm... maybe I can suggest a new open innovation business process, one in which Kraft:

  • Focuses on the co-learning opportunities from active dialogue and engagement with customers, and not just the capturing of fully realised, explicit product and packaging concepts
  • Clearly and persuasively motivates individuals and businesses to innovate for Kraft and provides some compelling rewards for them to do so
  • Puts some emphasis on the innovation potential of a community of Kraft customers and partners
  • Has a mutually advantageous intellectual property sharing programme
  • Uses the personality of its chief executive to inspire and champion the ideas programme - not a faceless innovation team
  • Is supported by an open conversational marketing and brand communications infrastructure to facilitate new social interactions between Kraft and its customers
  • Is not just open to US residents (what about all that global cultural diversity to source ideas from?!)
  • Is not obviously a half-hearted and apparently hastily put together programme (the Kraft ideas submission document is a straight .pdf word file – compare that to P&G’s lavish Connect and Develop brochure)

Nevertheless, despite my reservations, I can foresee that marketers and business commentators everywhere will use the scheme as further evidence of the corporate shift to openness, inclusivity and co-creation. That is great of course but in this case, I am afraid this isnt such a shift. The Kraft scheme represents a tightening of its open innovation strategy, a reversion to a closed system and not a fundamental transformation in its approach to sourcing new ideas from the market.

If you have any additional suggestions for improving the Kraft open innovation programme, let me know. We can make a joint submission….

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