27 February 2017
Amazon, Uber, Google … we take a look at the mundane truth at the heart of the world’s most innovative brands.
Today we read Fast Company’s list of the world’s most innovative brands for 2017. As you’d expect the list is chock full of bona-fide game changers; brands that are leading not following. In fact, most of these companies are so bleeding edge, that Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘tipping point’ is irrelevant to them; they don’t wait for ‘connectors’ or ‘mavens’ to pave their way, they draw people toward them by becoming a beacon for a future way of life.
However, it occurs to me that the elements that define all of these brands are things that have been universal truths about brand marketing since Henry Ford first put his name on an automobile – not the ‘faster horse’ that people told him they wanted.
And that is this: successful brands are all built in a similar way: an insight about a specific audience/s is identified, then used as the base for a unique, credible and motivating core brand idea, which is then artfully (and consistently) expressed across a range of carefully selected channels. So far, so everyday – so what makes these 50 superheroes profiled in Fast Company so ‘innovative’?
The answer can be summarised by observing another trait they all share. They know their audiences inside out; in fact they no doubt pride themselves on knowing them better than they know themselves. They know where all the best new talent is coming from, they know what their core consumers have for breakfast, they examine every ritual in which we participate. The data they amass about us is staggering. But this isn’t what makes them innovators – it’s the fact that they are so good at predicting how our rituals, habits and needs are going to change and evolve over time. They make it look easy, but of course the truth is that they’ve inbuilt this forward-focus into the very structure of their companies, so much so that even their company canteen menu probably reflects its own unique glimpse into the future. And of course they have now become so good at anticipating consumer need, they are actually now all starting to direct it (as opposed to just responding to).
You only need to look at Amazon’s store in Seattle where it knows what you’ve picked up and automatically deducts it from your Amazon account as you exit the store to see this in action. How hard is to scan and contactlessly pay at an unmanned checkout, but now it seems they’ve found away to do away with that as well. And we’re lapping it up; after all, we’ve saved 3 minutes in our day (and probably ended up buying more because we actually haven’t seen the numbers adding up in front of our eyes – there have been numerous studies done on this as well of course, all commissioned by retailers).
Ten years ago, such ‘1984’ corporate antics would be treated suspiciously, but new generations of consumers coming to the fore welcome this shared knowledge and open, directive relationship. Why? Because the payback for them is enormous. Take Uber for instance (number 3). Love them or hate them, they have taken an insight about their market and blown it wide open to a point where they are the insight, they become the trend we’re following. Many are cultural institutions now because of it, they’ve entered common language as verbs, and they are so synonymous with our everyday lives, that the idea of coping without them is enough to send consumers into a blind panic.
But of course, identifying the insight is not enough, finding a way for consumers to connect with that as a relatable offer, that’s where branding comes to the fore. Guy Watson, founder of the hugely successful organic delivery company Riverford, once said that he “resented every penny sucked into marketing“. He can probably get away with saying that, as his sister is the head of their brand marketing, but it riles me that such attitudes prevail; you might have had a great idea Guy, but what good is it if no one can get their head around it.
Happily, most CEO’s of genuinely game-changing companies don’t share Guy’s view. Branding helps consumers find a way to understand and relate to specific offers, and helps to define the channels where your customers can interact with that offer.
This list proves that product/service innovation and branding go hand in hand. And we as consumers are the real winners.