Innovation is the lifeblood of any brand hoping to achieve long-term relevance. After all, how can you pursue meaningful growth if you’re not offering products that appeal to consumers beyond your current audience? How can you keep your devotees in the fold if you don’t delight them with new things they didn’t know they needed?
Perhaps because the stakes are so high, we’ve seen that innovation can challenge a brand both internally and externally. When pursued without the right underlying strategy, there’s a risk that innovation might:
- fragment your points of distinction in customers’ minds
- confuse or alienate your loyalists
- distract leadership and marketing teams from the laser focus required to achieve long-term growth
- destroy the equity you have earned over time
Ground New Product Innovation in Brand Strategy
In order to fuel year-over-year growth, not just incremental short-term sales bumps, innovation has to move beyond basic line extension. What products would truly rock your customer’s world? What are the gaps in the market that no other brand is filling? How far can you realistically expand your offering?
When a better-for-you brand seeks our help identifying new products and new opportunities, we begin by gathering their team for an innovation workshop. Together, we do a deep-dive analysis that looks at:
- a detailed, data-driven map of the brand’s current audience
- the category landscape
- a competitive audit that identifies adjacent products that compete for your customer’s time and attention — and, therefore, dollars
- what we call the “range of acceptable stretch” — how far your brand can innovate in a way that makes sense to your audience. (In other words, a hospital brand can’t logically extend to the funeral home category.)
Innovation isn’t just a function of whatever cool new thing your R&D team can come up with. It lies in the center of a Venn diagram where audience need, market opportunity, and brand strategy overlap.
We can’t overemphasize the importance of brand strategy in innovation. It is the Rosetta Stone for translating the brand’s promise from its current state to the future, from current audience to prospective audiences. Without it, you’ll risk peeling off your longtime fans as you chase new ones.
Get Marketing and R&D on the Same Page
Developing new products doesn’t just impact your external audience; it can challenge your internal culture, as well. As we coach clients on innovation, we often find a disconnect between marketing and R&D. Staffers on the innovation team are fearless and scrappy and more focused on making an impact on the world than they are on their own careers. Marketing people used to be like this — think of the “Mad Men” era. We may be generalizing a bit, but we find that marketers today are typically afraid of screwing up and cautious about swinging for the fences.
In many modern BFY companies, R&D has a seat at the table, while marketing is on the sidelines. Tools of the marketing role — consumer insights, market research, futurecasting — are commonly used by product developers. What’s more, innovators are typically BFY consumers themselves, so they’re creating new things with their own lives in mind.
More than ever, we advise our clients’ marketing and R&D teams to work hand-in-hand. As the steward of the brand, the CMO ensures that new products or lines won’t confuse or alienate your loyal audience. Marketers should pivot their ideas about product developers — they’re not simply the crazy colleagues who foist off oddball ideas; they’re valuable collaborators. Suspend disbelief until you have a viable new product in hand, then determine if it fits within the brand, you have or a sub-brand, or a new brand altogether. Share data across all layers of the organization so everyone understands the audience and the market. Know that the process of creating new products can reveal gaps in the brand strategy, and vice-versa.
The only way to future proof a brand is to have ambitions that go well beyond what you’re doing today. R&D teams and marketing teams will have greater success at launching on-brand products when they understand how the two disciplines need to communicate.
Done right, innovation — whether it’s a line extension or a leap across categories — whispers all the right things to people who already love you and waves a banner that invites new folks into the tent.
Are your brand’s new product efforts poking holes in your marketing strategy? Are you chasing the wrong opportunities? Let us help you define the future of your brand.