What We Talk About When We Talk About Brand Innovation

As 2024 takes shape and 2025 begins to peek around the bend, we’re moving into the middle age of 21st-century commercialism. Brands around the world, in every industry, vie harder than ever before for attention, recognition, and differentiation, as a way to yield increasing market share. 

In other words, they vie for innovation. But what does it mean for a brand to innovate? 

As Henry Ford put it, “you can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do;” you have to actually do it. For ambitious brands, this means walking the walk, talking the talk, and finding creative, clever ways to push themselves, their industry and, with luck, the entire landscape forward in bold, exciting directions. 

To put it another way – it’s about much more than simple product innovation.

Wait… Why Are Brands So Keen On Innovation?

Being an innovative brand means continuously evolving and adapting to meet the changing needs and expectations of consumers. In today’s dynamic market, where competition is fierce and consumer preferences are constantly evolving, brands that fail to innovate risk becoming obsolete.

Brand innovation serves as a catalyst for long-term growth, enabling companies to expand their market reach and increase profitability.

It also fosters positive association, by demonstrating a commitment to meeting evolving needs and preferences.
Innovation provides a competitive advantage by differentiating a brand in often-crowded markets.
It drives brand evolution and relevance, ensuring that companies remain at the forefront of industry trends and consumer expectations.

By embracing innovation, brands create unique experiences. Good brand storytelling resonates with consumers on a deeper level, leading to stronger emotional connections.

Is It Actually Necessary?

Well… it depends.

What we might call ‘forward-thinking’ or ‘ambitious’ marketers argue that innovation is essential for staying relevant, in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing market landscape.

Others might question whether constant innovation is sustainable, or even necessary for all brands, suggesting instead that maintaining an “easy does it,” “steady as we go” approach may be preferable.

While innovation can drive growth and differentiation, it can carry risks and costs – especially when bold decisions are made without sound reasoning. Ultimately, this leads some brands to prioritize stability and incremental improvements over radical, sweeping changes.

The 4 Pillars of Brand Innovation

With that said, if history shows us one thing, it’s this: those brands that dare to be bold, and take on the mantle of innovation, are the ones that shine brightest. Think about Apple, Tesla, Adidas, Meta, and others like them. The world’s most innovative brands are the ones that consistently try new things, and find novel ways to connect with consumers.

Now, ‘innovation’ is, by its very nature an… ethereal pursuit. Being both smart and creative, in business as in life, can’t – nor should it – be reduced to formula. As Einstein put it, “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

However, the brands that do successfully innovate tend to weave a couple of consistent threads through their work. Think of the following as hallmarks that transform innovative brand ideas into profitable market realities.

1. Creativity

Creativity is the cornerstone of brand innovation – brands need to enthrall and inspire consumers in exciting ways to truly stand out in a crowded marketplace.

The risks of being generic are very real. Companies that play it too safe inevitably blend into the background of consumer consciousness, rather than breaking through and capturing attention.

In Lemon, Orlando Wood frames advertising as a creative outlet that is sadly undernourished in modern society. This is a symptom of our overly-analytical, left brain culture, which can stifle creativity and reduce advertising to “dreary science.”

2. Emotion

Emotion is another powerful driver of consumer behavior.

Our research consistently shows that when people feel more, they buy more, and so marketers need to provoke a deep emotional response, in order for an innovative idea to gain momentum and achieve mileage.

In fact, both short-term sales effects and long-term brand growth can be the result of emotional messaging geared at the right brain, in the form of things like:

  • Strong narrative
  • Character betweenness
  • Dialogue
  • Melodic music
  • Language inversion
  • A sense of time and place

3. A Cause

For innovative ideas to take root and really resonate with consumers, it’s usually helpful if it’s in pursuit of some greater good.

That doesn’t mean crowbarring some ‘save-the-world’ angle into your ad campaigns, or falling into the trap of greenwashing. But brands that can authentically align their innovative ideas with a cause – whether it’s sustainability, diversity, inclusivity, or accessibility – naturally generate more energy and engagement.

Sustainable advertising and green marketing, for example, resonate deeply with modern consumers who prioritize ethical consumption, and so brand ideas in harmony with this are more likely to reap success.

4. Consistency

Otherwise known as ‘Fluency’, consistency in messaging is key to reinforcing brand identity and driving brand innovation forward.

Brands must back innovative ideas: commit to their vision, believe in what they are doing, and not be afraid to talk about it.

It takes time for new ideas to bloom, and brands must repeatedly reaffirm the narrative to build long-term memory structures in the minds of consumers.

This can be achieved through fluent devices and consistent brand assets (think: the Geico gecko, the McDonald’s jingle, or the trademark Cadbury’s purple) that resonate across touchpoints; reinforcing the brand’s identity, idea, and message.

The Problem With Innovation, and the Way To Overcome It 

Innovation isn’t always smooth sailing. Whether it’s internal resistance to change, fear of failure, or simply not knowing where to start, making ‘innovation’ work can be tricky.

  • One way to overcome these challenges is through collaboration, both within teams and across departments. By breaking down silos and encouraging open communication, you’ll tap into the diverse perspectives and expertise of your employees to drive innovation forward.
  • Experimentation is another key aspect of fostering innovation. Encouraging a mindset of experimentation allows teams to try new ideas, learn from failures, and iterate quickly. Embracing failure as a learning opportunity rather than a setback can lead to breakthroughs.
  • Risk-taking is also essential for innovation – brands that are willing to take calculated risks and push the boundaries of what’s possible are often the ones that achieve the greatest success. 

But with that said, one thing you definitely don’t want to be doing is shooting blind. And so…

  • Augmenting creative and commercial decisions with science-led tools, such as Test Your Brand and Test Your Innovation, can help you overcome innovation challenges. These tools provide data-driven insights into consumer preferences, market trends, and brand performance, empowering you to make informed decisions and develop new commercial and creative ideas with confidence.

Speculate To Innovate

So as we look to the future, emerging technologies, movements, and trends are reshaping the branding landscape.

From the rise of AI and VR to the growing emphasis on sustainability and ethical consumption, brands are faced with new challenges, yes, but also new opportunities.

Creatives and forward-thinkers recognize in the world today what Bob Dylan saw 60 years ago: the times, they are a-changin’. And in response, they speculate. They experiment. And they innovate. The goal? To create more meaningful connections with consumers.

Because when the winds of change blow, some brands take shelter. Others build walls. But some brands dream of windmills, and get to work creating that reality.

That, in a nutshell, is what we talk about when we talk about brand innovation.

 

At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Innovation) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand testing tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.

Get in touch or book a demo with one of our experts to learn more about our market research tools.