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Shelly Greenway
Shelly Greenway 2 August 2018

Is Innovation More Powerful Than Marketing?

Working with big companies I'm always surprised that innovation is primarily considered a growth tool - less talked about as a way to build brand equity. That’s usually seen to be the domain of big advertising campaigns that supposedly land enduring brand values. But what if the best way to transform people’s perceptions of a brand is to change the way they experience it? This is where innovation comes in. Shelly Greenway, partner and strategist at strategic brand innovation consultancy, The Strategy Distillery shares her insights.

What if the best form of marketing wasn’t, in fact, marketing?

What always surprises me in working with big companies is that innovation is primarily considered a growth tool - less talked about as a way to build brand equity. That’s usually seen to be the domain of big advertising campaigns that supposedly land enduring brand values.

But what if the best way to transform people’s perceptions of a brand is to change the way they experience it?

Of course, a stand out billboard has real stopping power, but it’s the effects of innovation that will last a long time, and can really change the fortunes of a brand. Service brands get this the most. Their customers are naturally most exposed to the brand when they are actively using and experiencing it.

Norwegian Air is our first example.

WhenNorwegian Air enabled free Wi-Fi on its planes, they knew improving the experience would create better perceptions of their brand.

The brand’s mission is to turn perceptions of cheap airline travel on its head, and offering services for “free” on a low-cost airline is a great example of them acting like a true challenger brand. Not only are they trumping their short-haul competitors like Easyjet, but also their long-haul counterparts like British Airways. This clever move will no doubt help to establish them as modern and progressive leaders within the air travel industry.

Staying ahead of the curve with savvy moves like this one is essential to stop your brand becoming a commodity.

The next example shows how one innovation can hugely impact what the consumer believes the brand can do for them. How one innovation (which was probably not quick, easy or cost effective to bring to market) has the potential to completely redefine how a brand is perceived and who it appeals to.

Innovation that brings the brand promise to life with a jolt

Gatorade have started to establish themselves as “the sports fuel company” – a big step forward from ‘hydration’ which is where they started, and frankly was only ever a category entry ticket rather than a compelling and differentiated brand proposition.

Granted, ‘sports fuel’ as a territory has the scope to take them to protein bars, nitrate boosting gels, protein-enriched yogurt etc. But is fuel more than just function? How do you know what fuel you need and when?

Their latest innovation is a new bottle cap technology that measures and tracks hydration rates. This cool new “smart bottle” uses a microchip and disposable sweat patch to actually update athletes on their sodium loss. When the light flashes on the cap, it’s time to drink (a Gatorade drink of course!)  

What a great example of bringing the brand promise right to the playing field.

These are just a couple of examples of game-changing innovations that worked wonders for brand perception and stretch.

It hopefully goes without saying that the trick here is to have a strong, compelling and differentiated brand promise in the first place though. Not as easy as it sounds…

The main benefits of using innovation as a marketing tool are:

  • It can often push brands to interesting new spaces outside of the natural plays in adjacent categories
  • It puts meaningful distance between a brand and its competition
  • It can reinforce perceptions of the brand, but also evolve them
  • It has potential to build the brand faster and sometimes more cost effectively than big equity building advertising campaigns

In short, it’s time to stop obsessing over what the competition are doing (category-led innovation) and start thinking creatively about how you can stretch your brand’s unique promise to the consumer (brand-led innovation).

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