People are talking about innovation. Innovation is a buzzword. Innovation is a KPI or an OKR or something we are meant to be doing within the organisation. While many leaders are expected to innovate, few do, or don't do enough.
When leaders talk about innovation, mostly it is about product innovation.
We don't often hear about other types of innovation that occurs, like innovation of systems and processes or revenue stream innovation or brand innovation.
And, when you hear the term brand innovation, often the mind goes into product innovation mode.
Oh, yeah, brand innovation is like when a brand brings out new products. Isn't that what brand innovation is they say, expecting the answer to be yes.
Brand innovation is a key element, if not THE key element of brand management.
Brand management is tough. It is challenging.
Brand managers have a tough job because everyone has an opinion about the brand, yet few understand what a brand is, and even fewer, how to manage a brand, what the elements of a brand look like, and even fewer understand what brand innovation is and how it works.
To understand brand innovation is complex cause you need to understand the term, brand.
A brand plays a role within an organisation - like legal stuff, the name of the organisation, Trademarks that kind of stuff, or how the brand helps with tracking and tracing stuff so everyone is clear on who owns what. A brand is the overarching name of multiple products. Brands help consumers too. Brands have meanings and they are a short-hand way that customers can capture how they feel, think, and act when they come into contact with a brand. Academics call this a brand image. The brand is a heuristic concept that helps consumers make decisions whether they should buy brand x or brand y.
Brands are more than this, because really successful brands are an asset on a balance sheet, and often worth more than buildings, products, services and other assets the Company owns. Not everyone gets that cause all they see are the elements of the brand like the visual cues associated with the colours of the brand, the shape of the logo or the design of the brand. You know the fonts associated with the brand, the voice of the brand - whether it shouts or is quiet or has a quirky tone of voice. Some brands have status, others are premium, and then there are the luxury brands. Brands have archetypes and personalities that attract some customers and not others. Some say brands have attitudes and values and visions. Brands even have spokespeople and influencers and communities. There are a lot of elements to bring about a brand, particularly a strong brand, a brand that is worth billions of dollars like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft or Google. Most brand's don't start out that way, they start as a name of a product or the name of a Company. Along the way accidental or intentional, people will innovate brands.
We innovate brands so they change with the customers that are inspired by them, love them, and buy them.
If we look a little deeper, we see that strong brands, you know those brands that are worth millions or billions of dollars, well these brands got that way through many iterations of brand innovations.
Customers expect the brand to show them that the brand understands them. Customers interact with the brand as if it were a person. Customers have relationships with brands, they fall in love with and breakup with brands. Customers look for brands that are similar to them (and their actual self) or brand’s that inspire them to be their aspirational self (someone better than who they are, someone they would like to become).
Successful and strong brands understand customers want the brand to have a story. Customers want the brand to inspire them. They want the brand to stand for something. Customers are buying brand meaning as much as they are buying a product, more sometimes. Meaningful experiences tend to attract and motivate customer purchases. Customers expect the brand to paradoxically take a stance, yet be flexible enough to move with the times, and continue being relevant, as customer expectations and the environment changes. Customers expect the brand experience to be memorable, to somehow transform the customer from their actual self to their aspirational self. By taking selfies experiencing the brand, the brand experience lives on long after the experience. Every twelve months, the brand experience memory pops up in the customer’s social feeds. If the customer has enough of these transformational brand experiences, then their aspirational self may become their actual self, thanks to the brand, the brand experiences, and their innovations.
Brand innovation is important, because to stay relevant, and remain a high-value asset on the balance sheet, brands must keep on innovating. Innovating the brand story, innovating the brand experience, finding new ways to delight, excite and entice the customer. Leaders and their team innovate the brand's identity so the meaning of the brand remains relevant with customers as they change. Employees innovate and change products under the brand umbrella. Some products are cash cows and some go out to pasture. While products are synonymous with innovation, often they are only one part of the brand innovation story.
If you do a content analysis on a brand over time, history will show that the brand’s taglines, symbols, and visuals change with the tastes of customers. If customers perceive the brand is moving with them and making incremental changes with the customer then the customer will continue to buy. The relevant incremental brand changes keep the customer buying the brand.
Substantial brand changes can add or subtract customers.
Substantial changes are risky because of the paradox of being the same yet being flexible enough to change. If customers perceive a brand extension not to fit with the meaning of the brand, then they won’t buy it. Brand managers must manage the innovation balance.
Any innovations of the brand have a domino effect on other brand associations (e.g., the story, the meaning, value, expectations, experiences, attitudes, emotions, visuals, verbals) requiring careful management of the impact of innovations on customer perceptions of the brand. Positive monumental innovations cause a massive shift helping the brand leapfrog the competition, as brand innovation changes the way people consume products (e.g., Apple disrupted the way we listen to music and disrupted the laptop market). Brand innovations can have a massive impact on the balance sheet, improving the brand’s worth, particularly when customers desire for the brand strengthens as a result of innovations that are relevant and valuable to customers.
How many of us have Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, or Google accounts? For a moment in time, these iconic brands create a monopoly in the hearts and minds of their customers. A brand managers goal is be the only brand in the consumer's consideration set. For that moment, the brand is king. In our hearts and our mind, customers are in love with the brand. Customers will buy multiple offerings from the brand. The moment may last months or years. Momentarily, each brand will surpass the other, and give us something new. Something we desire. Something unexpected. Something we hadn’t thought we needed, but now can’t live without.
Because of brand innovation we move toward the brand that offers us what we desire most.
Brand innovation is the interplay of innovation between all of the elements that make up a brand, which bring a brand to life in the hearts and minds of its customers. Brand innovation is an art and a science. Successful brand innovation is the gift that keeps on giving, because we see the results on the balance sheet when we inspect the worth of the brand.
Customers experience the brand through several touchpoints along the customer journey pre, during, and post purchase. Brand experience is everything!
Customers are buying what the brand does for them. Customers are buying the fun experiences they associate with the brand. Customers are buying the acceptance from their friends when they wear the brand or talk about their brand experiences. They are buying the status they receive from others when they associate themselves with a premium brand. Customers are buying the brand. Customers buy what the brand does for them.
When we engage in brand innovation we are changing and improving any of the elements of the brand so customers have better brand experiences.
When thinking of innovation consider brand innovation.
We ask you to understand the value of brand innovation.
Think of it like this, product innovation is an instrument that plays within the orchestra sometimes by itself, but mostly with other instruments. Brand innovation IS the orchestra. Ask yourself who is the conductor of the orchestra? Is it the Brand Manager, the CMO, the CXO or the CEO? Who holds the ultimate responsibility for innovating the brand, for ensuring that brand innovation continues?