Why Innovation is the Most Powerful Form of Marketing

Jason Cobbold, managing director of Redscout, argues that brands should let their business innovations do the talking

Innovation is a hallowed word. It implies the future, firsts. It defines our era’s leaders and visionaries. It promises start-up success stories and exponential business growth. And so it is no surprise that innovation is high up on most CEO’s agendas. In fact, a study by PwC found that innovation is a priority for 61% of CEOs, and that 75% of executives are concerned with not having enough ideas. 

But whilst innovation is largely seen as a growth tool, it is less commonly talked about as a brand-building tool. That’s the domain of big advertising campaigns that land enduring brand values over time, isn’t it? But what if the CMO were as concerned with innovation as their counterparts? What if the best form of marketing wasn’t, in fact, marketing? 

At Redscout we’re obsessed with how action, rather than artful rhetoric, can really change the fortunes of a brand. That’s because we believe the best way to transform people’s perceptions of a brand is to change the way they experience it. So whilst we understand the stopping power of the billboard, we believe in the lasting power of innovation. 

Service brands get this most intuitively, particularly in high-engagement categories like travel, media and hospitality. Their customers are naturally most exposed to the brand when they are actively using and experiencing it. When Norwegian Air enabled free Wi-Fi on its planes, Spotify launched its running feature and Westin Hotels introduced its Sleep Well menu, they knew improving the experience would create better perceptions of their brands. 

But what does brand-led innovation look like? And how does it differ from other innovation? To be successful, it calls for the creation of products and services through the lens of brand, focusing on innovation that delivers against the core promise. Take EE’s Juice Tubes at Glastonbury Festival, for example. The telecoms company solved for a common annoyance at festivals – losing battery, and friends because of it. Juice Tube mobile phone batteries could be bought, along with a wristband that permitted wearers to swap one dead tube for a recharged one every day. No more dead phone, no more long charge waits, all adding up to a better festival experience. A successful innovation no doubt (and one that brought in revenue through battery sales), but what elevated it to a brand-building innovation was the way it reinforced EE’s ultimate promise – to connect people. 

If it sounds limiting, brand-led innovation doesn’t have to be. In fact it can often push brands to interesting new spaces outside of the natural plays in adjacent categories. Grindr, the dating app, just launched a 29-piece collection for ‘the guy who likes to break a sweat’, full of short shorts, barely-there trunks, mesh shirts and bandanas. By recognising that the app has become a way of life for users looking to meet like-minded people, it saw an opportunity to transform a popular dating platform into a lifestyle brand. Its clothes, badged with the distinctive Grindr logo and advertised by athletic young models, reinforce that Grindr represents the lifestyle of the beautiful, body-honed and well dressed, and the app is the place to find them.

Brand-led innovation can also powerfully differentiate a brand from the competition. High-end gym Equinox has brought its expertise on high performance living to the fore by expanding into other services for the professional class. It proved out its promise within the fitness category with features such as connected cycling, mood-based class recommendations, an Apple Watch-compatible fitness app and roaming trainers on-hand for advice. And in recent years Equinox has launched a lifestyle management program, a digital magazine on fashion, food and fitness, a hotel chain, and are even set to launch a suite of nurseries in New York. By successfully bringing a unique perspective on high performance living to new categories, Equinox has created a brand that packs a punch few other gyms can.

Innovation not only has the power to reinforce perceptions of a brand, but to also evolve them. Gatorade, the sports drinks company, had become a product associated as much with hangovers as health, when they partnered with Redscout to drive growth from a brand-shifting innovation strategy. We conducted in-depth research with athletes on playing fields, at gyms and in locker rooms, discovering that no brand was holistically providing athletes with the support needed for optimal performance before, during and after sport. We helped Gatorade create a system that could cater to the bodies of athletes throughout their regimes, and the result was the G Series: Prime, Perform and Recover. By understanding the needs of athletes, Gatorade made the shift from a sports drink company to a sports fuel company, regaining their scientific and athletic credibility, while driving the bottom line. 

When companies innovate through the lens of brand, success both builds the brand and drives growth. That’s why at Redscout we believe innovation is the most powerful form of marketing. In fact we’ve had a great many brands ask us to prove that bold statement, and 16 years on, it’s still holding up. 

This article was originally published on Contagious on August 24, 2016.

  Jason Cobbold is the Managing Director of Redscout's London office.

Jason Cobbold is the Managing Director of Redscout's London office.