Far from an indulgence, brand is an integral part of the innovation process. Principals’ Jo Hanson explains where brand fits in the quest for change.

We Kiwis are an innovative lot, right? We certainly think so, however, according to a New Zealand Productivity Commission Working Paper, the belief isn’t entirely supported by data. The paper argues that while New Zealand is great at putting in the research, it doesn’t always flow through to actual quantifiable innovation.

A lot of businesses out there are missing a trick when it comes to innovation and I reckon that could well be brand. 

Brand is an ingredient in the innovation recipe that can’t be forgotten regardless of the type of organisation we’re talking, be it a business adding something new to its existing offering, a legacy operation completely re-inventing itself or a start-up innovator. For the first two examples - those needing to transform, there is a real need to focus on brand in order to engage with internal and external audiences to take them along on the journey. While start-ups tend to require help to distinctly differentiate and crystallise their proposition, brand experience, and go-to-market strategy.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to get a sense of how brand can help differing organisations to innovate.

First, let’s consider professional services firm K3. In 2017, the law firm previously known as Kirkland Morrison O’Callahan made the innovative decision to bring the services of legal, accounting and consulting together under-the-one umbrella. The business needed a new brand that could reflect this shift but they required much more than a new logo. Working with the team, we developed the K3 brand which spoke to the consolidation of services as well as the New Zealand and Chinese audiences it serviced.

Brands are the shorthand of who we are, what we stand for, the way we talk and act. Brand signals whether you are innovative or not and in the case of K3, the new brand has successfully communicated the willingness of the organisation to innovate. So much so,  K3 Legal was recently named as winners in the NZ Lawyer 2019 Innovative Firms List.

Brand can also act as a checklist for whether innovation is the right thing for your business. It can help make decisions about which direction to head when looking to innovate. An interesting example to consider here is Lewis Road Creamery. The business started out making butter but has since released a cider, bread, and milk. There’s the idea, manifest in Lewis Road, that tireless innovation without a careful eye on the authentic/core meaning of the brand can lead to diluted meaning.  Does Lewis Road run the risk of losing its coherence?

I’d argue that the brand could be considered the equivalent of a country homestead where bread, butter, milk, and cider are all within the realms of possibility. But should the product offering continue to grow outside of what you’d find at a single farmers market stall, the brand could be in for a refocus.  

The final example is startup innovator Lime. A recent surprise entrant on our list of New Zealand’s most authentic companies, Lime has burst onto the scene and changed personal transport for many. The brand has at its heart - innovation. The launch (or rather drop) had a large element of newsworthy surprise but it has been the disruptive and highly convenient brand experience it offers that has ensured that Lime in spite of challenges and challengers has firmly established loyalty in our market. And as a result, it has scootered to number two on our brand authority index. 

Consumers recognise brands to be innovative, not on the basis of marketing claims but on the basis of the ‘lived experience’ of the brand.  You become credible as an innovator by doing rather than telling – this is the learning from a brand like Lime I think.

Brand is of course holistic. It is implicitly linked to everything a business does and therefore to be an innovator, innovation must be embedded within the brand and demonstrated through actions. Then the brand will be a true compass for future directions. We can get excited about innovation, but if it doesn’t fit the brand story or we claim to be innovative when we’re not, then brand authenticity perishes. Staying on brand today isn’t just about not venturing beyond graphic design guidelines. It’s about ensuring the innovation decisions and experiences we develop and offer are consistent with our brand values and brand story.