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  • Lou Killeffer

ABCs of Innovation: B is for Brand

Obviously, brands exert enormous influence on innovation.

Experience shows the more well-defined the brand, the easier and more successful innovation is. That doesn’t mean great brands don’t stumble and fall, they can and do, day in and day out, but in general, the stronger the brand the stronger and more successful its innovation.

This is because effective brand equity is singular, authentic, and clear. Your brand tells consumers who you are and are not. It resonates with people both rationally and emotionally. It’s where consumers start when considering their options, making choices, trying new alternatives, and ultimately remaining loyal through time to what works for them.

Begin at the Beginning

Given the brand is where the consumer starts, this begs the question of where the company should start - and it seems many if not most companies are organized to look outside first. They’re constantly scanning the competition and searching the marketplace high and low for clues that will show them where to go to next. Yet among high-performing companies there’s a growing realization that innovation success begins at home - and has to come out of the brand.

That's not to say that societal and commercial trends, the category context, informed market research – and most clearly consumer insight – don’t all play significant roles. They do, and they must. But the smartest firms realize understanding why people do or don’t do something and addressing the barriers to action will only take you so far.

Removing the obstacles for consideration is one thing, and often a critically necessary exercise. But as the basis for a proprietary solution, removing obstacles alone only lasts so long. Indeed, if you introduce a new, or advance an existing, category benefit without integrating it into who and what you uniquely are then how sustainable is it? How successful can it hope to be?

GO! Caution! STOP!

Beginning with the brand takes you from a market reactive mode to a more proactive, creative mode. Particularly as the contours of the brand broadly define your product development platforms in answering three key questions:

1. Where’s your sweet spot? Where do you have the most credibility and explicit consumer permission to play?

2. What profitable adjacencies recommend you invest time and money in convincing consumers to allow you to play?

3. What are the apparent boundaries you can’t exceed, where today you’re not welcome? Who put these barriers in place, how hard are they, and how long have they been there, and why?

To every rule, of course, there are exceptions: Virgin and Amazon are particularly prominent examples of brand adjacency and boundary stretching beyond all prior known limits! Simple amazing.

A Continuing Storyline

New products carry the company and the brand forward. They create momentum in the marketplace, refreshing existing expectations and relationships while creating entirely new ones.

This is how companies remain relevant and current, both leaning and looking forward, neither resting on their laurels or stuck in the past but celebrating it as part of a continuum. The origins that explain current activities as they predict future events – because they all share and spring from the same source. The brand.

As such, your innovations - the new products and services that are the brand in use - become the company’s storyline for all stakeholders. Living proof of the brand promise. The company narrative as a record of achievement through time, new product by new product, creating powerful meaning and engagement with consumers - as well as your employees, partners, and investors.

Brand Purpose Breeds Product Passion

Just how do brands achieve such sustained consumer engagement; producing passion for

their products? Most often, such dedication reflects the consumer’s evolution from mere

purchaser to active partner, At once on the same wave length and in communion with the brand. Where the consumer and brand come together in pursuit of something special: a higher ideal, that’s outwardly focused and transcends the company’s business model and commercial goals.

Key examples include some of the most successful brands in the world. Zappos delivers happiness. Google organizes and promotes access to information. Method’s leading a revolution to create happy and healthy homes. IBM’s building a smarter planet.

The concept of brand purpose has had many advocates through the years. Among the most vocal has been Jim Stengel, former CMO of P&G, through his book Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies.

Importantly, adopting a brand purpose isn’t simply about flag waving, rather it’s the union of an inspiring aspiration, a strong corporate culture, a robust business strategy, and extraordinary execution across the board.

Finally, when your innovation is brand based your job as innovator is easier because you

have a compass heading to follow. The brand’s essence, or purpose, that gives the brand an

enduring point-of-view, and hopefully the internal confidence and inspiration to do something

more - even something wonderful. Fulfilling the evolving promise of the brand itself.

And isn’t that the very best definition of innovation?

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