Brands are perpetually at risk for stumbling into common innovation pitfalls.
While innovation as a discipline has matured and improved over the last decade, failure rates continue to hover around 90 percent. Pre-pandemic, those odds were intimidating enough, but in today’s post-pandemic world of rapid and, at times, unpredictable change, they can seem insurmountable.
But it’s never been more important to innovate. Brands that are not actively working to evolve how they go to market or how they respond to the ever-changing needs of consumers are going to be left behind, offering something no longer relevant to the people who have spent the last year changing the way they purchase, interact with friends and family, and consider their health and safety.
For example, in the U.S., 68 percent of consumers reported that the pandemic has changed the products and services they once thought were important. And, in the wake of the Great Recession in 2008, research showed that the 100 most innovative companies actually doubled down on R&D and innovation investment, leading to profitability and growth in the long run.
It’s clear that brands need to be putting their foot on the gas when it comes to their innovation efforts. However, innovation for innovation’s sake is a surefire way to become a statistic. So, if successful innovation is difficult and more likely to fail, but it’s a critical undertaking in the times we live in, how can a company succeed?
We’ve identified two ways brands can avoid common pitfalls and innovate with purpose:
Using brand as launchpad for innovation
Innovation efforts are stronger when brand purpose is used as a North Star.
Take Peloton, for example, with its purpose of bringing people together through fitness while empowering them to be the best version of themselves. It does just that with equipment and an app that works like magic, letting users stream all types of workouts on demand. The library of content is constantly growing, the bike is frequently updated with new features, and the range of workouts offered keeps expanding. And while Michael Phelps has said he frequently rides the bike, there is just as much content that is focused on people who are working out for the first time.
When brand purpose is part of the equation, innovation is more tightly aligned with the brand’s mission, more differentiated in-market, and more likely to create impact. In short, brand and innovation are inextricably linked.
When brand purpose isn’t part of the equation, innovators risk falling into a number of traps. They can include investing in an idea that fails to address a deep human need, getting passionate about an idea that becomes an orphan when it doesn’t fit the brand, or assuming that the brand can stretch in overly ambitious new directions, which can lead to product and feature launches that don’t feel credible when they reach the market. And, if the innovation gets past these hurdles and needs to be marketed, more often than not the brand team is left trying to make sense of the pieces and communicate the brand purpose through the new idea. A story that’s destined to be clunky or roundabout.
Ask yourself: Is brand purpose an explicit consideration of your innovation process?
If not, spend time with your team to understand the brand purpose and integrate it as a key input in your immersion process. When selecting the small working group that will steer an innovation engagement, make sure to tap members of the brand team.
In short, brand and innovation are inextricably linked.
Fully understanding both today and tomorrow
Great innovation is built upon a strong understanding of the current reality matched with a vision for a yet-to-be-defined future
To succeed, innovators need to look across three areas – the consumer, the business, and the brand – and design for their emerging future, rather than today. It’s an easy mistake to look for insights in one or two of these areas, rather than all three. Most companies get excited by exploring consumer needs but fail to look at the expected evolution of the brand or business. This leaves teams solving problems without a complete view of what they’re truly looking to achieve. Success requires an understanding of all three areas and looking for the intersection of how they can come together to create opportunity.
When looking for consumer needs, innovators need to understand what people are trying to achieve, how their needs are going to evolve, and what trends are shaping their expectations. When interrogating the business, it’s helpful to look internally to determine the unique capabilities and assets that are available and how these might power future ideas. For the brand, it’s critical to understand how it is creating connection with its customers, and also how it’s enabling progress in their lives. This gives a clear picture of today’s brand performance while highlighting opportunities to improve the degree of connection or progress offered.
Ask yourself: Are you using your research approach to deeply understand what exists today as well as where consumers, your business, and your brand are heading in the future?
If not, explore tools that can provide a read of how the brand performs today, employ research to get a deep understanding of the consumer and lastly look to uncover hidden assets and capabilities that a business uniquely brings to an innovation challenge.
As brands look to create what’s next, it’s critical to understand that all innovation is not created equal.
While innovation can be a gamble, it’s a necessary one in today’s world of rapid change. To create the experiences, products, and businesses that will reset customer expectations and create growth and loyalty in the process, innovating with purpose is key.