How did Intuit®, Inc. use rapid innovation and agile management to evolve from small business accounting software into financial management solutions for multiple consumers? Despite the fact that the company has just begun marketing the Intuit name to the general public, its flagship products QuickBooks®, Quicken®, and TurboTax® are ubiquitous in the business world. Scott Cook, co-founder and chairman of Intuit, visited the Center for Brand and Product Management (CBPM) to describe his impressive approach to quickly acquiring and maintaining market leadership.

CBPM students were eager to learn how a former P&G brand manager took his company from a two-person, California-based startup to a leader in the business and financial management solutions industry.  Today the company is an absolute success with $3.9 billion in annual revenue, positive growth, and approximately 8,000 employees around the world. Among its many accolades, Intuit is considered by Forbes to be one of the “Top 100 Best Companies to Work For” and one of “America’s Most Admired Software Companies.” Even with this enormous growth, Cook insists that Intuit’s greatest innovation always comes from small, energetic teams working to accomplish their goals. It’s an approach he calls “two pizza teams.” 

Two Pizza Teams

Scott Cook has found that his teams are most effective and efficient when they are small. In fact, if one pizza alone cannot feed a team, the team has only a slim chance of success. Small teams ensure that all ideas are heard and decisions can be narrowed down more quickly, which allows team members more time to fully vet options and improve recommendations. On the large end, Cook explained, the maximum size of teams should be “up to two pizzas.” All of the Intuit projects that won innovation awards in 2010 were created and worked on by teams who could easily share one pizza.  

Cook demonstrated the effectiveness of small teams by enlisting CBPM students in his “Spaghetti Challenge.” Teams were tasked with creating the tallest structure possible using only 20 pieces of spaghetti, one yard of string, one yard of masking tape, and a marshmallow (the spire of the tower). In the first round of execution, students were broken into four teams of 10 (only three of which actually made a standing tower). With larger groups, not everyone felt as if they could participate fully. It was also noted that team members felt as if one or two people had dominated the discussion. After the modestly successful first run, students broke into two-person teams and repeated the challenge with amazing results: nearly all of the structures stood and they were significantly taller than all of the submissions from the first round. Most importantly, the process of working together was noticeably smoother, more efficient, and more fun.

Enable the Ideas to Prove Themselves

How does an idea prove itself? Intuit prides itself on investing in “rampant experimentation” of ideas to test how they idea fair in a real-time market setting. Whether the experiments are successes or failures, running tests—like mini-launches—helps gather reliable data which will either prove or disprove the basis for the innovation. Supported by real data gathered through experimentation, the best ideas in a company will be advanced. Intuit’s “Culture of Rampant Experimentation” is implemented from the top down, and allows employees to dedicate 10% of their work day to free time in order to work on and advance personal projects. The development of these ideas is what Scott Cook says drives innovation at Intuit.

The TurboTax® “SnapTax” filing application for smart phones is an example of an innovation that went through a number of experimentation phases prior to experiencing the huge success it has today. The consumer insight was basic; individuals on the Turbo Tax team noticed that users didn’t like having to re-enter all the information from their W-9 forms into the Turbo Tax system. In order to solve this problem, the team started to look for ways to tweak the Turbo Tax system so that it would read and automatically populate users’ information. The initial idea was to have users scan their W-9 forms and create a tool that pulled the information from the scan into Turbo Tax.  Through experimentation, the team encountered two barriers to use: people did not have access to a scanner or did not know how to use the scanners they had purchased. Since a traditional scanner was eliminated as an option, the team considered using a cell phone camera to transfer the data from paper form into electronic form. This idea won big, and SnapTax became the basis for the award-winning “Phone Filing” app in 2011.

Find the Best Wheel-Maker

Nailing down an exact definition for “innovation” is pretty difficult, which might be why Scott Cook focused more on what innovation is not: re-inventing the wheel. Specifically, innovation does not involve starting over or solving a business problem in a radically new way. To win in the market with an exciting “new” product involves putting together the right team of experts who have the experience needed to tweak old ideas, build on their successes, and generate that something “new” out of lessons from the past. 

Cook advocates “finding the best wheel-maker” and resisting the instinct to build a new wheel when working on a problem.  Some of the best innovations at Intuit (SnapTax, Turbo Tax®, have succeeded in the marketplace because Intuit was able to solve consumers’ problems quickly, by strategically leveraging existing expertise paired with a new take on a consumer insight. In order to prove his dedication to the wheel-maker concept, Cook has gone so far as to form a partnership with one of America’s former most wanted criminals, Frank Abagnale. You may recognize the name of this notorious check fraud expert from the movie Catch Me If You Can. When it comes to the science of check fraud, Mr. Abagnale is the best wheel-maker possible. With his help, Intuit has determined some of the best and most advanced ways to protect consumers from check fraud. 


Bluedog on the importance of brand purpose

Nancy Mines, senior client advisor, and Eric Staples, senior creative strategist, at Bluedog Design, LLC presented to Center for Brand and Product Management(CBPM) students on the importance identifying a brand’s core purpose. When the brand purpose is clear to the management team (us), we can then communicate clearly to all other stakeholders, including the creative partners and—most importantly—consumers. To illustrate this point, Staples walked us through his firm’s process for revamping the creative messaging and packaging design for Nestlé/Purina’s premium Chef Michael’s pet food brand.  

What is Brand Purpose?

A brand’s core purpose is much more than just a value proposition and its promises to consumers.  In Bluedog eye’s, the core purpose is a unique and motivating reason for a brand’s existence, and it should be clear to consumers. Not all brands have honed in on their purpose, which makes them confusing. If you ask a consumer to speak about the purpose of American Airlines, for example, answers could include blank stares, “travel,” “cramming as many people as possible on a plane,” or  “baggage fees.” By contrast, Google’s brand purpose comes more easily to mind: to organize and provide universal access to the world’s information. This purpose clearly guides the actions and initiatives of the company, including digitalizing 15 million books, mapping all corners of the globe, and developing an Android operating system. A meaningful and inspiring brand purpose elevates the connection between brands and consumers; consumers don’t just buy a brand, they buy into a brand and the things the brand stands for.  

Why is Brand Purpose Important?

A brand’s purpose pays off not just because it allows the brand to connect with consumers at a deeper level, but because it provides meaningful direction that guides the marketing decisions for the brand manager. It’s the “true north” that propels a brand forward, creating the brand’s point of view and input into cultural conversations. The brand’s purpose must also transcend its positioning, which, by definition, relates a brand to its competitors. While a brand’s positioning is achievable in the short run, it’s also easily attacked by other brands. If a brand’s position, essence, or promise is threatened, the natural reaction is to defend it; by contrast, if there is a threat to fulfilling the brand purpose, the natural reaction is to take action to fulfill the promise, rather than defend it. As Bluedog put it, striving to fulfill that purpose is “a journey with no apparent end.”

How Can We as Brand Managers Identify Our Brand’s Purpose?

Identifying a brand’s purpose requires a team to completely immerse itself in the world of the brand and its consumer culture.  It is not enough to just Google things that might be of interest to your consumers—you have to live the brand. Bluedog illustrated this method in their redesign of Purina’s Chef Michael’s premium dog food brand. The team spent nearly two weeks in kitchens and homes with consumers and their pets. They identified that the Chef Michael’s consumer believes that food is love, and the food they choose to feed their dogs is representative of their love for the animal. The Chef Michael’s brand purpose, therefore, is to empower consumers to give their pets the food that best expresses that love. In order to design a package for the brand that articulates this value, the brand team needed to eat, see, feel, taste, and listen. They needed to experience and understand gifting, dining, and other expressions of love. The immersive process led the team to develop a platform for the brand’s creative strategy, focused around the power of love and making the brand a clear choice for consumers who believe in that purpose.     

Kraft/Nielsen: Discovering the Power of Data

We have all come to realize that in our daily and professional lives we inevitably face a data deluge. Data is everywhere and can support just about anything, including important business management decisions. The better we all become at unleashing its inherent power, the more quickly we will discover what matters most—the nuggets of wisdom, the true insights. Kraft Oscar Mayer, with the support of second-year Brand Center students, sponsored the Nielsen Analytics Adventure and taught first-year students just how quickly data can overwhelm comprehension.

What is the best way to get your feet wet as a brand manager before heading to your summer internship?

  1. Instead of spooning a pillow at night; cuddle up with a jug of Snuggle, bag of Purina cat food or box of Kraft macaroni & cheese, or whatever product you'll be working on this summer.
  2. Request an extension on your financial aid and buy all of the products within the company's product portfolio to absorb the brand's aura.
  3. Go through a rigorous exercise that exposes you to Nielsen data.

The Answer: C

In an effort to walk in the shoes of a brand manager, it is important for MBA students in the Center for Brand and Product Management who are heading to Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies to familiarize themselves with the requirements of the job. Along with other responsibilities such as a P&L, future brand managers must familiarize themselves with the hard data that will drive many business decisions. Commonly used at major firms, Nielsen data provides a plethora of information on a brand's performance. However, the skill that separates a good brand manager from a great one is how to decipher the data and create a "story," ultimately promoting a great business strategy.

When giving a brand management presentation, you should always tell your main story:

  1. By building the climax throughout with examples
  2. Within the first 3 minutes of your presentation
  3. By ending with a surprise result

The Answer: B

It's not because brand managers are easily distracted, it's because an effective presentation will set up the main punch line at the beginning, so you can focus on supporting this with details throughout.

"The success of your first 2-3 years in brand management will largely be determined with how well you can tell a story with your data." These words, spoken by an Associate Brand Manager at Oscar Mayer, struck the first-year CBPM students as especially true after getting through our Nielsen data "boot camp" exercise. No matter how much wading through data you do, the key to communicating one's analysis often rides on the ability to craft a clear and impactful story from your data. It might be easy to become overwhelmed by all possible directions one could go with a large set of numbers; however, finding points of analysis that move in a singular direction and telling a simple story will demonstrate one's ability to clearly understand a business situation.

When standing at the edge of a cliff getting ready to cliff dive into the sea you should:

  1. Jump head first, don't worry about the consequences
  2. Jump feet first, because jumping head first would probably hurt
  3. Get off the cliff because you are being silly and there may be sharks.
  4. Time the waves, estimate the rate at which you will fall, then jump.

The Answer: D

As a brand manager for a CPG company you will inevitably have to use Nielsen data to better understand consumer behavior. At first glance Nielsen data is overwhelming, there are odd acronyms and terms that frankly need to be explained by a professional. After taking the time to understand the Nielsen structure, you can find nuggets of consumer truth that will direct millions in advertising dollars. Like a cliff diver though, this sea of information is overwhelming at first. You have to take a structured approach in analyzing the data and be precise when you jump in. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed.

3M: Design Matters

What is it about design that provokes such powerful emotion, but remains so difficult to describe to others? And why is it that we can all tell through simple features such as color, font, or shape what brand is being described to us?

During an Applied Learning session, 3M Design Manager Kevin Gilboe walked CBPM students through his world of a design and described how design roles are more critical now than ever.

Design is integral to a brand’s identity, equity, and its marketplace success. With such importance, design must not be mistaken for a simple input cost or functional silo. Remarkable, impactful design is only achieved through a collaborative partnership of designers and business people who come together to dream big.

What do a can of Coke, a BMW, and an iPod have in common?

  1. They are all things I want for my birthday
  2. Each product is immediately recognizable because of its iconic design
  3. All three brands are secretly owned by the same organization
  4. You can now buy each of these products out of a vending machine

Answer: B

A can of Coke, a BMW, and an iPod are all perfect examples of iconic design. You can look at outlines of the product or faint images and know immediately what brand they represent. Consistently good design can result in sustained competitive advantage, according to Kevin Gilboe, 3M Design Manager. Through design you can instantly communicate a brand image and connect people through peripheral interactions to the core brand design. According to Gilboe, he can tell when watching a commercial that it is for AT&T by the amount of orange that is on the TV screen.

Design can both differentiate your product and provide competitive advantage. When you think of the most iconic brands in the world, design plays an integral role in differentiating the brand from its mass of competitors. More importantly, design can provide competitive advantage in the marketplace that causes a consumer to select your product over others. Through time, effective design evolutions may trigger enhanced loyalty and sustained competitive advantage. Gilboe highlighted a story from his experience working for Whirlpool about how the company redefined the category purchase profile for washers and dryers, which were only bought for utilitarian purposes and hidden in the basement, by rethinking their user interface and visual appeal. Through innovative design, washers and dryers are currently often purchased in sets with rooms specifically designed to showcase them.

How can you measure the importance of design to your brands? <

  1. Design is too expensive
  2. Designers care more about aesthetics than function
  3. Design doesn’t matter if the product works D) Design is just window dressing 

The Answer: A

ROI (return on investment) is a key phrase when evaluating future investments in a company. Design can be superfluous and useless, but when ROD (return on design) is used as a metric, real cost benefits can be realized from great design. Kevin Gilboe, 3M Design Manager, related a story from his former career with Whirlpool where, through the innovative design of a “Fabric Care System,” Whirlpool was able to translate those design efforts into real dollars including a considerable rise in profits and share price. Design doesn’t have to be expensive, and in reality, all design should contribute to the bottom line.

ROD (return on design) should play a key factor in the evaluation of any design initiatives. From an internal standpoint, good design can reduce packaging costs and utilize “greener” manufacturing processes, saving both money and communicating an eco-friendly message to consumers. From an external standpoint, design can “delight” consumers, differentiate product lines, provide real user-interface benefits, and ultimately encourage consumption of your brand or product.

What is the perfect trifecta of a dream team at 3M?

  1. Utilize the mighty power of the Triforce found in the Legend of Zelda
  2. Channel the zen-like relaxation enjoyed during the Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day holidays
  3. Leverage the skills of a scientist, designer, and brand manager

The Answer: C

The scientist. The designer. The brand manager. These three individuals are the heart of design at a company like 3M. Marketing director Pauline Allison spoke about this trifecta in the sense that although there are many important groups in the development of a product, these three teams are at the core of 3M’s brand identity. Presenters from 3M also discussed the many ways in which designers and business managers differ, such as setting design objectives.

To be successful in business today, especially at an innovative, forward-thinking company like 3M, employees can no longer have a mindset of “you do this, you do that, and I’ll do this.” Instead, employees must be engaged in as many areas of a business as possible and constantly promote collaboration. Some of the best business ideas and innovations come from people who are dealing in areas outside of their field of expertise. Sometimes, a fresh perspective can make all the difference.

ConAgra: New Product Innovation

The Center for Brand & Product Management invited ConAgra Foods Brand Managers Ryan Stalker and Jennifer Becker to host an Applied Learning session on the topic of innovation. The Brand Managers shared their experiences designing and marketing new products in order to demonstrate the necessity of remaining relevant to core consumers while maintaining brand identity. The secret to their success was listening to the consumer and attempting to mirror his or her wants and needs.

In a crowded space such as frozen meals, what is one way a company can attract new customers without alienating loyal consumers?

  1. Make packaging really BIG to take up more shelf space.
  2. Create line extensions that speak to both parties.
  3. Imbed subliminal messages in advertising a la BMW

The Answer: B

When Con Agra decides to pursue a line extension, the brand managers are cognizant of the fact that they must maintain relationships with the core consumers who helped to establish the brand equity but also attract new consumers the company needs to meet its growth strategy.

With the new product strategy in place, two important factors that brand managers consider in evaluating a product’s current and future success in a crowded category are: first impressions of the product and the product’s relationship with its parent or master brand. With consumers spending less than 90 seconds at the shelf, the first impression is vital to brand success. The added complication when launching new products is that it is easy for a product to miscommunicate and undermine its relationship with a "master" or parent brand.

What do Chef Boyardee, Slim Jim, and Orville Redenbacher have in common?

  1. They are all named after their founders.
  2. 100% of all Americans have eaten one of the products at least once in their lives.
  3. These are all ConAgra brands.
  4. All of the above

The Answer: C

ConAgra has evolved over the years from a flour milling company to a consumer packaged goods (CPG) firm, but the structure of the company is different in comparison with other American CPG players, such as Kraft and General Mills. Partly as a result of this organization ConAgra has a number of historic brands that have lost relevance in the market. To complete ConAgra’s transformation into a modern world class CPG brand house, the company has placed additional focus on long term strategy on individual brand growth and commitment to customer satisfaction.

Brand managers have defined a prototypical consumer for each of their brands and are focused solely on developing products that serve his or her individual needs. To this end ConAgra has initiated a new product development process that appeals directly to the target consumer by incorporating base ingredients that their target consumer is already purchasing in stores. General Mills and Kraft pioneered similar consumer strategies with solid success. ConAgra is also making great strides in the sophistication and implementation of their business and brand strategies. The future appears to be very bright at ConAgra, with brand managers fearlessly leading the way.

One of the biggest challenges for a brand manager at a large food company is…

  1. Obeying the unspoken rule that one should only eat your own company’s food brands.
  2. Putting yourself in the consumers’ shoes.
  3. Trying to stay hip and cool by adding bacon to as many products as possible.
  4. Memorizing the ingredients in all of your products.

Answer: B

For most of us, how we eat is a very personal choice – one that we make several times throughout the day. Everyone has opinions regarding the importance of a variety of factors including, but not limited to: nutritional content, taste, convenience, cost. At the end of the day, knowing the consumer intimately is the most important skill a brand manager can have. To illustrate this point the representatives from ConAgra filled a classroom with hundreds of different frozen and fresh foods. Standing before mountains of tater tots and green beans, Brand Center students were tasked with inventing a new product that would appeal to a specific Con Agra consumer, described as “Tracy,” a mother of three who faced the challenge of feeding her family with approximately $100 each week. Tracy desires to give her kids wholesome and creative food options and she worries about her food selections appealing to all members of her family. One of the offerings presented was “mini-chicken pot pies” that were designed to appeal to Tracy’s creative side as well as her kids’ tastes. Although many of the students had never purchased or eaten the food lines that they were designing new products for, they quickly found that the key to success was putting themselves in the consumers’ place.


Believe it or not, introducing a sensitive subject like menstruation to the public in an honest and candid way can motivate social change while helping a new brand make a huge splash in the market. With the launch of its spunky U by Kotex brand, Kimberly-Clark (KC) approached the feminine care market in an entirely new way: by sparking a nationwide dialogue about menstruation that aimed to make young women feel more comfortable with their bodies.  

How much does tone of voice really matter?

Kimberly-Clark (KC) searched for a unique voice that would resonate with its 13-22 year-old female target when launching U by Kotex. KC realized that, like others in the “femcare” category, its brands had not been speaking to the consumer about her period in a relatable or authentic way. So, KC decided to make fun of itself, and other companies, for creating overly “rosy” portraits of how women feel about their periods. KC instead turned to humor, sarcasm, and wit to acknowledge the laughably unrealistic portrayals of menstruation in advertising. The tone of the campaign resonated well with the target segment and even with consumers outside the target market, and the ad campaigns created a huge amount of media buzz. Since the launch, no other competitors have attempted to replicate this distinctive and socially disruptive voice. 

How can you stand out on shelf with a new brand?

Not only did U by Kotex find the right voice for their brand, they also utilized unique packaging design to differentiate themselves on shelf. The U by Kotex product line’s unique black boxes and fun design set it apart from its competition, in terms of both visual design and brand meaning. U by Kotex took a page out of the cosmetic industry’s playbook when the brand transformed its product offering to feature sleek and vibrant design, more reminiscent of a MAC makeup counter than the femcare grocery aisle. Unlike the other top feminine care brands that stuck to either tampons or pads (e.g. the traditional Kotex, Tampax, and Always), U by Kotex is the only brand offering an entire line of “personal care” products unified by common design features. Because of this, all female consumers, regardless of their specific product preferences, can “buy into” the larger brand. This created an opportunity for creative cross-merchandising, including displays which describe the product line as “personal care,” as opposed to the unappealing “femcare” label. The power of this idea was visible immediately after the product launch in drugstores, where the product was displayed front and center. The U by Kotex design innovations empower consumers, too, by daring them to stop being ashamed of what’s in their shopping baskets, backpacks, or purses. 

What’s the next topic of conversation for U by Kotex?

“Desensitizing” men is the next step in Kotex’s social disruption plan. U by Kotex’s overall brand strategy is to de-stigmatize the menstruation process in order to lessen the embarrassment and awkwardness that women­–especially pre-teens­­–experience. Juliet, the U by Kotex brand manager, showed a video clip featuring a woman asking random men on the streets of NYC to purchase feminine care products for her. The men were generally embarrassed and uneasy. Although it is not the brand’s sole aim to make men feel more at ease with the menstruation process, this strategy will draw more attention to the brand and start a dialog between the sexes. Who knows, perhaps we’ll see U by Kotex in guys’ shopping baskets sooner than later.