Who's Really Innovative?

For marketers, the "i" word is inescapable. Books are written, conferences are convened, and processes developed around the concept of innovation. We praise as "innovative" teensy formulation differences intended to squeeze out a quarter-share point. In reality, these are desperate measures that often hurt a brand in the long run. At the other extreme, we praised "innovative" home mortgage products as win-win: lenders expanded their market and more Americans bought their own homes. In fact, it was lose-lose. The lenders are losing their shirts, and the buyers their homes. We know now that not all innovation is necessarily good.

That got me thinking. Who does the American public consider innovative? What companies and brands do the non-experts see as real innovators? To answer these questions we tapped into the BrandAsset® Valuator (BAV)-our powerful brand research tool. BAV is the world's largest study of brands and is based on the truth that competition for mind share is fierce and crosses categories. In exploring innovation, BAV allowed us to measure which of 3,000 brands in the U.S. (and up to 1,500 in 48 other countries) the public believes are the most innovative. No exclusions-we measure product brands, company brands, sub-brands, celebrity brands, not-for-profits. They are all there.



In 2007, the top 15 innovative brands in the U.S. were:

1. Bluetooth
2. Pixar
3. iPod
4. Imax
5. Microsoft
6. DreamWorks
7. TiVo
8. iMac
9. Discovery Channel
10. BlackBerry
11. Disney
12. Google
13. Swiffer
14. Wikipedia
15. Dyson

(Ok, usually we do top 10 lists but these were soooo close together, I couldn't resist).

So what's significant about this list? There is a shocking scarcity of packaged goods brands, probably reflecting marketers' emphasis on uninteresting line and flavor extensions over new products driven by consumer needs. Only Swiffer, nearly universally acknowledged as a breakthrough idea offering a true consumer benefit, makes the list.

Of course, our innovation list appears to be dominated by technology brands. But is it really? The Discovery Channel, DreamWorks, Imax, iPod, TiVo, and even Disney have successfully harnessed technology in the service of entertainment. In this short column I won't delve into the societal implications of all our innovation focused on entertainment. Suffice it to say that the public lauds these brands for new, innovative approaches.

It is interesting to note (and more encouraging?) the presence of The Discovery Channel, Google, and especially Wikipedia-all brands with a strong learning and information-seeking element. Apparently the public is interested in newer, more accessible learning channels.

Digging deeper, we can see that a majority of these top innovative brands own a platform for ideas, products, or services. Most of them are successfully running a platform with multiple revenue streams. Bluetooth, Pixar, DreamWorks, TiVo, BlackBerry, even Swiffer can all be seen as enablers: brands that offer both the foundation for new products and a promise of quality and reliability.

They are also brands or companies that think and act fast. They have lots of ideas and have learned how to swiftly translate those ideas into products and get those products to market. Sure, they make some mistakes; not everything is flawless. But the public has learned to count on them to be there first with life-enhancing ideas. Whether they're enabling greater mobility, reviving the animated film as an all-family experience, bringing us our desktop computing environment, or helping us find answers at all hours of the day, these brands repeatedly deliver against a framework or platform of innovation.

Luke Mansfield, head of innovation for Landor's London office, says it better: "Sure, Edison invented the light bulb, but his real genius was realizing that his inventions could not live in isolation. He was obsessed with platforms. He realized a light bulb is nothing without the electricity to run it. So it is with the iPod. It is just a device, the hook is in the platform: the distribution deals with the record companies, iTunes to catalogue and deliver."

So what does this tell us?

• Innovation is not a one-off. It stems from a culture of creativity and risk taking.

• Don't focus on product, focus on platforms from which you can develop and deliver new products (think Swiffer, iPod, even Dyson).

• Speed is of the essence. What can your company do to streamline multilevel decision-making and decide how and when something is good enough?

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