How to Plan Innovation

When we think about innovation, we typically think about the result, not the process, as if the idea sprang out of the ground fully formed. Innovation is not getting something to market; it's getting the right product or service to market. This requires a commitment to the consumer, not solely to your company's internal capabilities. It is speed to knowledge of what your customers want that matters, not just speed to deployment. True innovation takes a bit of planning.

We're all familiar with famous innovators such as Steve Jobs and Howard Schultz, but the truth is we're all innovators. It's behavior more than it is a gift. Fundamentally, it's about problem solving, understanding how to ask the right questions, and seeing patterns before facts.

There are four principles necessary to hold to in order to preserve what's essential about a brand without closing minds to the innovative opportunities a new product presents.

1) Define what you're bringing to market, starting with the brand purpose. How do you interpret your brand based on the role it already plays in people's lives? How do you create a new proposition that extends and reinterprets your brand? The first step is asking the right questions:

Identify which trends are indicative of changing consumer needs.

How can you affect both consumer behavior and the bottom line?

Why are you going to be relevant in consumers' daily lives?

2) Once you've identified the idea, how do you build consensus, create believers, and drive momentum? Place these new ideas in the parameters of your brand from the start. While this shouldn't be restricting, you need to be sure your innovative ideas will not erode your brand.

3) The key battle to differentiating is balancing your intuition with certainty. It's not just about what makes you competitively distinct. It's what you stand for in people's lives.

4) Great brands think about the entire engagement of the innovation and improve every aspect, not solely the product. Remember that packaging is not an afterthought, and it's not just an execution: It's the most tangible touch point the consumer has with your brand.

As innovators we need to trust in our gut but then ask the right questions. We need to identify the opportunities in front of us and recognize the right way to tap the brand equities we have in hand. Sometimes innovation is about reinterpreting—not reinventing the way we talk to consumers.

When our firm worked with clients on the launches of Starbucks' VIA Ready Brew Coffee and Frito-Lay's All Natural products, the key challenge was not bringing products to market but crafting an experience that preserved the brand equity those companies had built.

There's a lot of room for innovation, but it is a rigorous process, not a bolt of lightning. We need to spend more time listening for the insights that will solve our challenges—both for consumers and our businesses.

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