Innovation Options: Trend-theft, R&D, User-Abusers and Branded Brands.

20Jan08

Trend spotting is a seductive thing. It lures brand managers and planners into believing they gain advantage by watching out for what some other brand is doing and then replicating a version of the idea for their own brand.

To a degree of course this is tempting, as it may offer some value and lessen risk associated with developing new and unique ideas. Particularly if the Trend-theft (stealing someone else’s innovative idea) may be executed well and with a brand-relevant twist. Especially one which makes the idea seem different and more appropriate to your consumers. But, going beyond possible IP infringement issues, there are still common and related shortfalls to Trend-theft.

First of all, your competitors are also watching for innovations and trends. So the likelihood of creating difference is reduced from Trend-theft or innovation appropriation.

What’s more, if the idea was generated within the same industry and market audience space, you may benefit from waiting and watching how the consumer reacts and how the brand innovator refines and expands the idea. After-all, if you trusted a brand for its innovation skill, you may also wish to learn from their post-launch analysis and refinement processes; as this will allow you to learn how the idea is further optimised and implemented more effectively. an ideal approach to innovation for the terminally lazy perhaps?

In some cases competitors may simply be faster in adopting or adapting ideas for their advantage than other brands are able to replicate. Some brands seem handicapped into using slow approval and development processes. And if the systems, products or campaign mechanics can’t be developed or tested swiftly, a brand may become sidelined to the slow-lane of competitive brand mediocrity.

Convention often suggests that it’s the bigger and more established brands that are the least nimble at innovation development or able to implement changes swiftly. This can lead to the ‘walking with dinosaurs’ effect, witnessed in markets where huge but well established corporations are loosing share to nimble new competitors.

But there are some established brands that tackle innovation well. How often have you seen innovation case studies for Apple or Gillette for example? But such brands tend to deploy a budget for RandD that is simply unavailable to the average marketing director. So what other options are there if R&D investment is minimal and Trend-theft is failing to create leadership or true competitive advantage?

Personally I like to learn how existing ‘heavy user’ consumers, preferably the obsessive and technically talented types, like to adapt (abuse) a brand product or service so that it does what they want it to do; rather than what it was intended for.

These people are called User-Abusers and they are also possibly your greatest product or service users and biggest brand fans. They just happen to know how to get your product or service to perform better or differently in order to truly meet their needs.

Consumer insights originated from User-Abusers tends to have two effects when presented within businesses or viewed by competitor brand managers. People often say ‘That’s obvious.’ or ‘We know about that. People have been tinkering with the product like that for a while.’ The point of course is that consumer enthusiasts continue to tinker and adapt your products and services because they don’t fully meet their needs. Perhaps a method of innovating would be to embrace such ‘off official spec’ functionality more readily?

This certainly happens in the digital world. Both Google and Yahoo are examples of brands that actually hire individual User-Abusers or purchase entire small companies dedicated to abusing existing data and systems through mash-up or innovation.

For non-digital companies, I sometimes wonder if meeting consumer demands is still part of what their marketing teams do? Perhaps a little User-Abuser research would help reduce the amount of time brand owners spend wondering what they are going to say about their poorly differentiated brand or products.

However, there is another way of approaching the need to add value to your product or service that doesn’t have the Trend-theft, R&D or research requirements of User-Abuser inspired product development. Selling Branded Brands, where what your brand offers is augmented by including a product or service from a respected leading specialist brand, is still a popular method of differentiating and innovating a brand.

Even if the level of innovation is less when you include another brand in your brand’s offering, it does have the benefit of rapidly adding value and credible difference through leveraging existing brand expertise and consumer trust.

I’ve included an old article from TrendWatching.com, in case you missed their introduction of the Branded Brand idea:

BRANDED BRANDS

Original article link here

Despite some doom and gloom predictions for brands in general (too expensive, too much media saturation), branded goods remain as hot as ever. Certain focused and well respected brands, often beacons of coolness and quality, are now cashing in by enriching other, more all-encompassing brands. The result: BRANDED BRANDS.

In plain English: BRANDED BRANDS means you will get a pizza from Pizzeria Uno on an American Airlines flight. And onboard perks offered by United Airlines include Starbucks Coffee, Mrs. Fields Cookies and even a McDonald’s ‘Friendly Skies Meal’, including the ubiquitous promo-toy.

When you check into your Westin Hotel, expect the beauty products to come from premium brand Aveda. Le Meridien adds to its appeal with luxurious Hermes toiletries. These days, lifestyle magazines even include this kind of information in their hotel reviews.

Cars aren’t immune either: Lexus proudly promotes their Mark Levinson audio systems. And when dining out, don’t be surprised to find Haagen-Dazs ice-cream on the menu of even upscale restaurants. It all points to consumers on the road increasingly wanting to find the brands they trust and enjoy at home (United Airlines’ in-board coffee approval shot up to 87% when it introduced Starbucks).

Up to marketers to decide whether they represent a brand that should be branded, or own a brand that puts the ‘branded’ into others!

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