Six Innovation Exercises for Brand Leadership
- by David Capece
The world’s leading brands continually innovate.
While we often think of Google and Apple as innovation juggernauts (and they are), there is innovation afoot at older brands, too, such as Pepsi, McDonald’s and Mercedes. In the case of Pepsi and McDonald’s, companies that have a portfolio of products caught in the obesity storm, executives have had to evolve from their historical platforms to avoid extinction. Pepsi has developed a social responsibility platform. McDonald’s is now the No. 1 buyer of apples in the U.S. In the case of Mercedes, a new line of lower-priced cars is their response to the dangers of their aging wealthy consumer base. In some other cases, innovations are purchased. For example, Microsoft is known for its investment in and acquisition of new products and technologies.
Whether created organically or purchased, whether incremental or transformational, innovation is vital in today’s rapidly evolving, competitive global economy. At Sparxoo, our team of brand and innovation strategists has led many brand innovation workshops and expert work sessions with Fortune 500 companies. Our formula is simple: start with creativity to spark new ideas, then add in strategy to structure and focus ideas across identified goals. Great ideas can come from anywhere, so tap into your leaders, your Gen Y talent, your customers and industry experts. Connect the ideas together and draw out an innovation road map for the medium-term and long-term.
Below, we share six innovation exercises to help energize your thinking.
1. Subway Train: This exercise is a big-picture competitive mapping process that helps you visualize the interactions among market players. Stretch your thinking about how far-reaching your platforms are, and about the relationships between industry players.
Pretend you are a civil engineer designing the future map for your industry, with a focus on mapping out the current and potential future competitors. Like the New York subway, create a series of four to six subway lines. Name each subway line and create specific stops on the line. Each stop represents a brand in your industry or potentially in an adjacent industry. On the map, note subway hubs where several lines intersect. Where is your brand’s location on the subway map? Where is the ideal location for your brand tomorrow?
2. Royal Kingdom: This exercise helps you identify partners and competitors and anticipate the moves of key market players. Get prepared for the battles that lie ahead.
You are the king of a village and are expanding your kingdom. Draw a map of your surrounding terrain, noting all nearby villages. For each village, note whether the occupants are friendly (i.e. potential partners or acquisition targets) or foes (major competitors). Note the key assets held by each village. What are the benefits and barriers to occupying each space? What are potential battles that lie ahead, and how will you align your troops for success? Consider that you only have a few key moves in the next three to five years. Which villages should you focus your attention on, and why?
3. Causal Connection: This exercise helps connect product benefits with customer needs. This one-to-one mapping can help you make sure your innovation is on target from the user perspective.
Create two columns. In the first column, create a list of product features. In the second, note the action you hope to accomplish for the customer. Now, prioritize the actions that you want your user to take and aggregate product ideas together that will help satisfy the customer need.
4. Shop-Along: This exercise gets you out of the office to the place where your customers are: in the store. The way your customers shop in reality may be very different than the way you drew it up.
Visit the stores where your consumers shop. Shop along with the consumers, tracking their movements and the types of products they’re shopping for. When they evaluate products, what are the cues they are looking for? What is the suite of products associated with selected products? In other words, when they buy a Hershey’s bar, they might also buy marshmallows and graham crackers.
5. Music Mojo: This exercise helps you think through the personality of your industry, your competitors and your organization.
When you think about your industry, what mood comes to mind? Choose five to eight songs from across genres and listen to them. What does each convey? What would you think about an organization / brand that reflected the song? Now map the songs to your competitors and to your brand today. Which song is inspirational for your brand tomorrow?
6. Magazine Cover Story: This exercise helps your organization imagine what you want to become famous for. The goal is to truly stand out, so make it happen.
Select the magazine on which you’d like your brand featured on the cover. Determine the topic of the cover story and create a headline and a visual to go along with it. Discuss the impact of this cover story–and, of course, the steps required to make it happen.