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What does it mean to innovate? The word itself is defined as “making changes” or “doing something in a new way.” Innovations inevitably shift the way we experience the world and go through our daily lives. Think about what you experience on a day-to-day basis. You’re reading this right now on a device dreamed up by visionaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Driving around, you’ve most likely seen Elon Musk’s vision of an electric vehicle, a Tesla, rolling right next to you. And you may have let your friends know about that through Facebook, for which we have Mark Zuckerberg to thank (most likely…the movie The Social Network has some other theories on that we won’t get into here).
But a product or service alone isn’t what makes these innovative people and their brands thrive. Other electric cars came out first. Other social networks were online first. But as we all know, being first doesn’t guarantee success. There are other things that set these innovative brands apart. When we look at top innovators and their brands, there are five key traits they all share that drive their success.
1. Own an unshakable point of view.Successful innovators maintain an intense, unwavering focus and act on their vision, even when it would be easier to water down the vision to appeal to a broader audience. Setbacks and obstacles may exist in their world, but true innovators aren’t always driven by sales. They are driven more by proving they’re right and bringing their vision to life with sales coming in as part of that process. It’s that spirit that pushed Elon Musk’s Tesla, SpaceX, and Hyperloop projects to where they are today. It’s the same spirit that drove Dr Pepper to carve out its own space with a unique flavor that can’t be replicated by Coca-Cola or Pepsi. They confidently act on their vision with a singular drive to achieve their objective.
2. Build from the inside out.Successful innovators know that employees drive companies forward, not just the product. Giving those employees the freedom and responsibility to make contributions that impact the company fosters a collaborative, entrepreneurial spirit that is rewarded. Brands like Facebook and Pixar give their employees the room and the opportunity to make a real impact, whether it’s a new feature for the social network or a new way to process images for an animated film. Innovators master these processes and use them to keep the company in the best position to be a category leader.
3. Design with empathy.Design simply. Design beautifully. Design that shows you are thinking about the customer and eliminating any barriers to delivering an easy and intuitive experience for everyone. Top innovators not only keep their customers top of mind at all times, they also always look ahead to anticipate and predict customer behaviors to continue providing that easy experience. These principles drive Apple’s process of delivering beautifully designed products, and it’s a process that continually evolves to anticipate customers’ future needs.
4. Provide value at every touch point.In today’s world, there are numerous ways to reach and interact with your audience that go way beyond the traditional TV, radio, or print avenues. Since the attention grab has been spread across multiple physical and digital channels, delivering value at every touch point is paramount to keeping the customer happy. Innovative brands add value to people’s lives in interesting, unique, and engaging ways no matter where the interaction happens. Whether it’s a phone, laptop, TV, tablet, or voice-command center, Amazon can engage with their customers, take care of their needs, and add value to their day through its services.
5. Think tribally.Building a culture of care and camaraderie that rallies around one purpose creates an infectious passion for the brand that customers can feel at every touch point. Companies like Zappos and Southwest Airlines are known not only for delivering value, but also for delivering a consistent brand experience that’s derived from shared core beliefs that inform every customer interaction. This opens the door to focusing on like-minded customers with whom you will form faster, deeper, and longer relationships because there’s no need to persuade them about the validity of your brand. They are believers and know the value of the products and services your brand provides.
When you look at your company and your brand, ask yourself: Where do I see these traits ring true in what we do? How can we incorporate these traits into our company culture? How can we further embrace that spirit of innovation that will help us make an impact on the world?