Right Innovation, Wrong Time? A Lesson In Futureproofing.

I had an interesting conversation with Isabelle Faivre, Marketing Director of Cascades Tissue Group, last week. Cascades just made headlines with the launch of Moka beige bathroom tissue paper, a new twist for the U.S. market and arguably the most environmentally responsible product of its kind.

The only thing is, Moka isn’t exactly a new brand concept. It was, in fact, first launched in non-white napkins in the late ‘90s. But early sales were sluggish at best.

So why is Faivre bullish on Moka, the bathroom tissue? And why are the brand’s napkins increasingly getting an enthusiastic reception in the commercial market (hotels, schools, etc)?  What’s changed?

It doesn’t take a genius to point out that consumers are more accepting of green products today. Sustainable is no longer synonymous with poor performance or high price. At the same time, commercial customers are clamoring for products to help them buff their green image.

But that’s all hindsight. I could’ve made an equally convincing case for green success in the mid-2000s, when the Moka napkins finally started to catch on. The point is, innovations sometimes fail not because of any inherent fault of their own. And if they do fail once, they’re seldom given a second chance. Which, in many cases, is a terrible waste of a good idea.

Fourth Time Lucky

Before I started consulting on futureproof brands, I spent a year working with a terrific innovation firm.  One of their favorite stories revolved around a gangbuster product launch that a client had previously tried (without success) to bring to market…three times!

The anecdote was instructive on several levels.

First, it taught the value of thinking outside the jar. If we try something once, and it fails, we become inoculated to trying it again. It often takes someone new to see the opportunity in a relaunch, and fight it past the naysayers and ‘didn’t work’ people.

Second, societal needs change. If a product didn’t succeed the first time, perhaps there wasn’t a perceived need for it. Or perhaps the product was launched to fulfill the wrong need. Pulling back and reanalyzing the needs a product is supposed to fulfill can lead us to surprising revelations. In the case of Moka, commercial clients need green products to boost their image – much more today than last year, let alone ten years ago.  Especially considering recycled fibers can now produce towel and tissue products that feel just as soft as those derived from virgin fiber sources.

Third, fail forward. An unsuccessful launch is nothing more than a real-life lab experiment. If a product fails, smart innovators take fastidious notes, determine the underlying causes of the failure, then re-engineer the product, marketing, distribution channel – whatever the cause of failure was.

Make It Futureproof

We live in a time of economic, environmental, technological and cultural chaos. In order for brands to succeed, they need to swim comfortably in these turbulent waters. Here’s how:

  1. Sustainability – In the case of Moka, sustainability goes without saying – a 25 percent reduction in environmental impacts in production, according to a scientific product life-cycle analysis. But it also goes without saying that this is practical sustainability, without compromise to product performance.  As Isabelle Faivre told me, it was job one to guarantee the paper would be incredibly soft, and strong.
  2. Innovation – I always find it incredible how many companies have no formalized process for creating everything from incremental to radical innovation. To succeed, you need to know what you’re going to launch this year, and in five years. With Moka, it seems Cascades was thinking far beyond a first launch when it came to marketing their original beige napkins.
  3. Design – Interesting design note on Moka: 20% of the material used is corrugated cardboard. This gives the paper it’s distinctive beige colouring, and lends the product a great story. In an age of commoditization, we need design that tells stories to help us differentiate products.
  4. Insight – If people don’t really need it, it won’t sell. And if too few people need it, it won’t sell. Every futureproof brand starts with a powerful insight, which simply states a universal consumer need. Toilet paper definitely counts as a universal need.
  5. Sociability – This is not as simple as creating a facebook account and tweeting. Cascades has been active in the green business movement since the 60’s. It has built a following of values-based brand lovers. It’s a brand that is much more than the sum of its products – there’s character, stories, and real values to tap.


Marc Stoiber is a creative director, writer, innovator and green brand specialist.   He consults with clients across North America. He also speaks and blogs extensively on trends that will influence the destiny of today’s brands.  He can be reached at marc@marcstoiber.com