How brands can synergise fast and meaningful innovation

There is a difference between wanting to innovate, and needing to innovate. For companies wanting to innovate they are typically in control of their ambitions, decisions and timeline. However, companies needing to innovate are usually under external forces calling for a response and dictating a certain course of action at speed. In these latter situations, the uncertainty can lead to the urge for fast action, but simply being first to the market can do more harm than good.

Unexpected events or disruptions in the market that call for immediate responses, should not steer brands off course from their long term brand ambitions, but can instead contribute to them when framed correctly. This is why we believe the appropriate innovation response for brands needing to innovate shouldn’t just be quick but should be meaningful.

The trouble with prioritizing speed over content is that it can result in knee-jerk obvious answers. Looking at the advertising world, this situation became apparent with many of the early well intentioned Covid-19 responses quickly becoming a parody montage, resulting simply in white noise with any meaningful message being lost.

A recent study conducted by Adobe actually found that these campaigns had a negative impact on customers, who were already overwhelmed by the situation, and who preferred to think of something other than Covid-19. Instead, the study found that customers preferred more meaningful responses, which stayed close to the brands role. Some of the more memorable product/service innovations during this period can be seen where brands had more popular and timely responses such as Gucci’s personalized video shopping assistant for customers that could no longer visit stores or as seen on a much smaller scale in Amsterdam where restaurant Mediamatic Eten, opted to redefine the dining experience rather than simply move to takeaway through their social distancing ‘glass concept houses’ or the innovation by Eat ‘N’ Go, a franchisee for quick service restaurants in Lagos, Nigeria, using mobile apps for home orders and delivery during the pandemic. In all of these innovation-driven responses, brands were not typically concerned about a speedy innovation in delivering value and staying connected to their customers. The germane question to ask then is what does fast innovation entail?

The need for steadfast action has resulted in the popular idea of ‘Fast Innovation’ which is seen as a silver bullet when it comes to ‘fast to market’ responses. However, when you dig deep into what fast innovation actually entails, as noted by its author Prof Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, its main focus is on fast development approaches such as agile and lean versus fast thinking. This in turn puts an emphasis on ‘getting to market fast’ versus ‘getting the right thing to market fast’, which for the latter still requires upfront thinking and decision making.
So how can brands decide a course of action quickly without falling into obvious traps, and ensure that fast innovation efforts add to meaningful brand building?

When we talk about meaningful innovation, we are not talking about innovating for the sake of short term top of mind relevance, but instead doing it for the purpose of making a genuine impact on the customer brand experience.

To optimize this approach for brands needing to think and act fast to market disruptions, a number of simple questions which can provide a basic analysis of the situation, with respect to how best to respond will suffice. Answering these questions will give a better insight on how brands can be fast and meaningful.
1. What product/service does the brand provide and
2. What benefit does it offer customers?
3. Does the current situation affect our customers ability in gaining access to the benefits the brand delivers – and why?
4. How can we continue to deliver the benefits our brand provides given these specific constraints?

The first step of this analysis is ensuring that it is grounded within the context of the ‘status quo’ of the brand. For this, simply considering what your brand does and the benefits it offers customers creates the brand lens through which to view the market disruption.
Once this lens has been established, brands can consider question 3 which is the situational context for the brand lens, asking ‘does the current situation affect the customers ability in gaining access to the benefits the brand delivers – and why? The role of the simple yes or no response aims to separate ‘bandwagon’s’ from meaningful responses, with the why justifying either answer.

Lastly the fourth question aims to address the specific ways in which a customer’s experience has been affected which prevents them from gaining access to your brand experience. Here there are a number of thought starters from changing or repositioning a product/service offering, changing the channels which customers can access a brand, redefining the brand experience etc.
By asking these simple questions, brands can quickly start to analyze disruptions in the market allowing them to decide on whether a response is called for, as well as identify opportunities for innovation based on how the customer brand experience is affected. These questions in turn enable a brand to sense check on ideas that will contribute to meaningful brand growth, versus white noise.

These questions provide a sense of when and where to innovate, when it comes to market disruption. Answering these questions can be done simply in a brainstorming session with colleagues or through what is known as an opportunity workshop which can last as little as 4 hours.
Through the workshop format, the approach is very much the same as the questions outlined. Here we look at the existing customer journey, then considering what the impact of a given disruption would have on it. From here opportunity areas can be identified for innovating on in an ideation exercise. The output of this exercise provides directions on which to innovate on which can directly be used to kick start fast innovation responses.
When it comes to market disruption, ensuring the efforts of fast innovation aren’t wasted or misguided requires starting from the right place to ensure that it is meaningful. For this we suggest starting with framing change in the context of your brand, starting not by asking ‘what do we do now’ and asking ‘what have we always done, and how does this change’. By doing this brands can ensure that fast innovation will lead to meaningful innovation.


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