Never let innovation for a brand be something that happens randomly. It should fit strategically under the brand. At Beloved Brands, we believe the best brands build everything that touches the brand around a Big Idea, that guides the 5 magic moments to create a beloved brand, including the brand promise, brand story, innovation, purchase moment and the brand experience.
When we take the 5 brand connectors above, we start to see how the big idea should guide every part of the organization, the promise is the positioning, the brand story becomes the marketing communication, the innovation helps frame what R&D should be focused on, the purchase moment connects the sales team to the channel strategy while the experience impacts the operations and culture of everyone in your organization.
Taking that one step farther, we can see how the idea drives every part of your organization. If any employee connected to a brand, is not focused on their role in delivering the big Idea, they are not doing their jobs properly. Everyone should be looking to that brand idea as the beacon for how to focus their work.
Innovation has to fit under the Big Idea. In nearly every organization, R&D is a separate function reporting up through the President, with the R&D head usually being a peer to the CMO. As the Brand Leader, beneath the CMO, you need to influence, manage and even direct your R&D counterparts to ensure they are focused on your brand strategy, We recommend every brand should have a 5-year Brand Strategy Road Map (see below) that has a combination of key elements of the brand plan such as vision, purpose, strategies and tactics matched up with the 5 connectors under the Big Idea.
The Innovation Plan
For most brands, your plan should have a separate innovation strategy that looks at new products, processes, methods and claims. The Innovation Plan falls under the Brand Plan and the strategies should align to the Brand Strategic Road Map. To build an effective Innovation Plan, we recommend that you explore the following:
- The strategic role of innovation
- The art of being different
- Building an Innovation process
1. What’s the strategic role of Innovation
As you’re looking at your brand strategy, you need to look at the brand from all sides. Here are four questions to be asking that force you to choose four possible solutions to each.
- What is your current share position in the market? Where you rank is a great indicator of how much power you can command in the market. You have four choices, using Marketing Warfare (Trout and Ries) you are either the Leader, Challenger, Niche or a Guerilla. The challenger type brands should to look at innovation as a strategic tool to break through with consumers and help separate itself from the leader. Conversely, the leader must quickly match every innovation the challenger puts forward to thwart them from gaining a competitive advantage.
- What is the core strength that your brand can win on? Most brands should have a focus to what they win on, either winning on product, idea, experience or price. Product driven brands should focus on superiority, ensuring you invest in product Innovation to stay ahead of competitors. Conversely, experience brands should look at process innovation focused on making the experience even better–speed, simplicity and added service. Idea brands should build the innovation in support of building the idea, making sure that you continue to focus on “being different”. And for price brand, the innovation should drive cost out of the system.
- How tightly connected is your consumer to your brand?Consumers move along a “Brand Love Curve”, as they become more connected to Brands, their feelings and behavior changes. We believe that brands move from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally to the Beloved stage. Where you are on the brand love curve should frame how you look at innovation. Brands at the indifferent stage should be looking to innovation as a tool to create some point of difference in the consumers mind, at the Like It stage you should use innovation to help separate the brand and create a following, and then as the brand moves to the Love It stage use innovation to build an emotional connection and turn your product into an experience. Finally, for a brand at the Beloved stage, you can use Innovation as a way to surprise and delight the consumer, as well as using innovation to attack yourself to improve yourself.
- What is the current business situation that your brand faces? As your plans are designed to move your brand, you need to understand where they are before you can decide where you want to move them.
2. The art of being different
The classic launch formula we have all seen: do the basic product concept testing, hope for amoderate pass. Then meet with sales and explain how this is almost identical to the launch we did last year, and builds on the same thing we just saw our competitor do. Re-enforce that the buyer hinted that if we did this, we’d get on the shelves pretty easily. Go to your ad agency, with a long list of mandatories and an equally long list of benefits they can put in the ad. Tell the agency you’reexcited. They’ll tell you they’re excited as well. Ask for lots of options, as a pre-caution because time is tight and we’re not sure what we want. Just hope the agency clearly understood the 7-page brief. Test all the ads, even a few different endings, and then let the research decide who wins. That way, no one can blame you. Do up a safe media plan with mostly TV, some small but safe irrelevant secondary media choice. Throw in a web site to explain the 19 reasons why we launched. Maybe even a game on the website. Ah, we have our launch.
With the current economy, shouldn’t we be taking more risks to stand out and not playing it safe right down the middle of the road?
Push yourself to be different. The most Beloved Brands are different, better or cheaper. Or not around for very long.
Think about 4 possible types of launches:
- Good but Not Different
- Not Good and Not Different
- Different but not Good
- Good and Different
- Good But Not Different (the launch outlined above): These do very well in tests mainly because consumers have seen it before and check the right boxes in research. In market, it gets off to a pretty good start—since it still seems so familiar. However, once challenged in the market by a competitor, it falters because people start to realize it is no different at all. So they go back to their usual brand and your launch starts to go flat. This option offers limited potential.
- Not Good and Not Different: These are the safest of safe. Go back into the R&D lab and pick the best one you have–even if it’s not very good. They do pretty well in test because of the familiarity. In market, it gets off to a pretty good start, because it looks the same as what’s already in the market. But pretty soon, consumers realize that it’s the same but even worse, so it fails dramatically. What appears safe is actually highly risky. You should have followed your instincts and not launched. This option is a boring failure.
- Different but Not that Good: Sometimes we get focused on the product first: it offers superior technology, but not really meeting an unmet need. So we launch what is different for the sake of being different. It does poorly in testing. Everyone along the way wonders why we are launching. But in the end, consumers don’t really care about your point of difference. And it fails. The better mousetrap that no one cares about.
- Good But Different: These don’t always test well: consumers don’t really know what to make of it. Even after launched, it takes time to gain momentum, having to explain the story with potential investment and effort to really make the difference come to life. But once consumers start to see the differences and how it meets their needs, they equate different with “good”. It begins to gain share and generates profits for the brand. This option offers long-term sustainability.
3. Innovation Process
It’s important that you make innovation part of the culture, with
regular brainstorming, consistent stages of approval and a certain diligence and oversight on decisions. While innovation takes creative energy, it should never be a random process (unless you are 3M)
- Identify New Opportunities: It’s crucial that you are constantly listening, observing and identifying consumer needs, market trends and pain points that need solving. We recommend a regular brainstorming process to ensure you have more ideas in the pipeline. Include a cross section of the organization, outside agencies and a process for creativity to ensure that you diverge to allow the group freedom for new ideas and then converge against the best ideas. Using the ideas, build concepts that you can use with consumers–a balance of qualitative and quantitative research. You want to identify uniqueness, potential size of the opportunity, own-ability/strategic fit, and any consumer feedback that might help optimize or twist the idea. This must be a constant and regularly scheduled mining of ideas.
- Create an innovation pipeline: We would suggest you build a 5 year pipeline of ideas. Short term ideas should go through concept refinement, in market testing and a stage-gate decision process with management. Stage-gate decisions include approval of the execution plan and milestones from production to launch. To have a robust pipeline, you need longer term ideas that may still be in need of further concept refinement or potential technology discovery through your R&D team.
- Go to Market Implementation: Depending on the importance of key innovation, you should consider putting your best people on the team. With an important launch, the difference between good and great can make a huge difference. There are lots of heavy lifting on the back-end, including naming, logos, packaging, production, channel plan. From there, you need to build marketing support: advertising, presentations and in-store support. With each launch, you need to eventually hand over to a launch team, including marketing, sales, operations.
The best Innovation is creatively well planned, not randomly disorganized
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