Many Made the Mistake of Taking the Brand out of the Innovation Equation on the Fuzzy Front-End. Are You One of Them?

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Companies make many mistakes in their innovation journeys and often they go down the same path again and again and wonder why that is the case. The four main reasons among many are:

1/ They think it is all about creativity and coming up with more ideas.

Coming up with ideas is easy. Coming up with good ideas is not difficult. Coming up with more ideas is not helpful. It is the quality of ideas and once ideas are being exhausted, it is time to perform the more difficult job of sensemaking and mapping. This is where most people fail and have no idea of what and how to do next. They lack a framework of synthesizing these concepts into bigger themes and look at them in a differently way to see how each of ideas-system means to the customers, business and industry.
2/ They think innovation should be separated from the brand. Often people start thinking of new ideas without thinking, without understanding the scope and scale requirements and that should be governed by the brand.
These ideas need to link to the current brand or masterbrand in whatever ways and has the potential to scale within a reasonable period of time. No established companies, unless for a very good reason, should start a new brand because of economic reasons and also the brand can be a powerful source to inspire innovation, in addition to the users or customers. Otherwise people can waste a lot of time and realize that, even if they have a good idea, the marketing investment will cost too much, making the project not worth pursuing. On the opposite, they should also not confuse brand extension or other incremental innovation with strategic innovation.
3/ They think their current capabilities (including that of their agencies) are adequate and can do the job. The learning curve for them is too steep.
In many cases, companies have existing working relationships with their advertising agencies and marketing research firms and naturally would want to work with them on innovation projects. This is a bad decision; as for the advertising agencies, they are too deeply embedded with the existing idea of what the brand is and should do rather than a fresh way of looking at it. And most marketing communications people are not equipped to manage the innovation process. Some innovation firms are basically ex-advertising agencies people repackaged themselves as innovation consultants (there are some occasions when people successfully migrate). Most marketing research firms are not equipped with the right tools to do research that support innovation, and end up applying the usual quantitative and qualitative research methodologies which were designed for market testing and tracking.
To unlock the full power of applied creativity to drive innovation and economic value, let’s not approach innovation with overly simplified approach to getting the magic and bringing in the money. There is no magic in the innovation process, no one should hide behind this magic black box and the client expect them to show up one day with some magical ideas and then write them a check. Innovation is about applying design thinking and having all the right type of people and capabilities in place.
4/ They are confused between strategic visions, brand and innovation and what comes first?
Executives spend a lot of time on strategic vision – answering questions such as who we are, what we do and what do we want to be when we grow up etc. Then they trying to figure what the brand really stands for. At the same time they also spend time on creating new products and service ideas? What usually happens next is now they struggle bringing the two together to use?
When people hear about vision, they think of it as something that guides the company into the future, and to succeed in the future requires innovation. And innovation is about building a powerful brand and create new market space for the future. While the value of having some kind of strategic vision is obvious, it should never be mistaken as strategy. Strategy is not only about vision, it is about strategic innovation. And brand should guide innovation. It is so easy to get confused.
Moving forward companies need to do two things differently.
1/ Reorient their brand people with the idea that brand needs to get beyond communications. My new book 60-Minute Brand Strategist shows readers step-by-step guide to build a brand from the core and its meanings to customer experience design. Brand Managers should not be stuck in the old world with old-school approach and brand-building model developed in the 80s and take on the roles as Brand Innovators. Every brand manager’s jobs should have two roles: managing brand business performance and managing brand innovation.
2/ Rethink what kind of people and skills is needed to implement innovation. Implementation of innovation is 10X harder than is coming up with the ideas and it requires more than a product development person. They need to understand the different roles that they already have – and will need – on the team and each role’s importance in the ideation and activation stages. Idea Couture research on innovation practices shows that many business leaders still believe that innovation is a rare gift that exists mainly in creative people who are in leadership roles or gifted creatively. For example, just think of how often you hear people saying, “That’s why I get paid the big bucks because I am the big idea guy.” Such thinking is not healthy as it usually means that organizations are overlooking other, much better sources of potential innovation. An idea, even a big idea, is not the same as an innovation. Only when an idea is turned in to a product, a service or a business that creates new value can it be considered an innovation. Whether the innovative idea is radical, substitutive, incremental, or complementary, it still needs to fit into the stages of a value chain within an industry.
On another note, my book 60-min Brand Strategist is officially launched this month. It is available in Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other book stores. These are some pages taken from the book. It only takes you 60 minutes to read through it. I know you’re busy. Share with me your thoughts.