Innovation – More Powerful Than Marketing?

Innovation – More Powerful Than Marketing?

What always surprises us when working with big companies is that innovation is usually primarily seen as a growth tool. It is less commonly talked about as a brand-building tool. That’s usually seen to be the domain of big advertising campaigns that supposedly land enduring brand values. What if the best form of marketing wasn’t, in fact, marketing?

At The Strategy Distillery, we are passionate about how innovations (products and services) 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 a billboard, we believe in the lasting power of innovation.

Service brands get this the most. Their customers are naturally most exposed to the brand when they are actively using and experiencing it.

Which brings us on to our first example.

Norwegian Air – Service innovation to help establish what the brand stands for

Norwegian Air Wifi

When Norwegian Air enabled free Wi-Fi on its planes they knew improving the experience would create better perceptions of their brand. The brand’s mission is to turn perceptions of cheap airline travel on its head (obviously not literally of course!).

Offering services for “free” on a low-cost airline is a great example of them acting like a true challenger brand. Not only are they trumping their short-haul competitors like Easyjet, but also their long-haul counterparts like British Airways. This clever move will no doubt help to establish them as modern and progressive leaders within the air travel industry.

Staying ahead of the curve with savvy moves like this one is essential to Stop Your Brand Becoming A Commodity.

The next example shows how one innovation can hugely impact what the consumer believes the brand can do for them. How one innovation (which was probably not quick, easy or cost effective to bring to market) has the potential to completely redefine how a brand is perceived and who it appeals to.

Gatorade – Innovation that brings the brand promise to life with a jolt

Gatorade have started to establish themselves as “the sports fuel company” – a big step forward from ‘hydration’ which is where they started, and frankly was only ever a category entry ticket rather than a compelling and differentiated brand proposition.

Granted, ‘sports fuel’ as a territory has the scope to take them to protein bars, nitrate boosting gels, protein-enriched yogurt etc. But is fuel more than just function? How do you know what fuel you need and when?


Their latest innovation is a new bottle cap technology that measures and tracks hydration rates. This cool new “smart bottle” uses a microchip and disposable sweat patch to actually update athletes on their sodium loss. When the light flashes on the cap, it’s time to drink (a Gatorade drink of course!)  What a great example of bringing the brand promise right to the playing field.

Some other examples of game-changing innovations that worked wonders for brand perception and stretch.

It hopefully goes without saying that the trick here is to have a strong, compelling and differentiated brand promise in the first place though. Not as easy as it sounds…

The main benefits of using innovation as a marketing tool are:

  • It can often push brands to interesting new spaces outside of the natural plays in adjacent categories
  • It can really put some meaningful distance between a brand and its competition
  • It can reinforce perceptions of the brand, but also evolve them
  • It can build the brand faster and sometimes more cost effectively than big equity building advertising campaigns

Our parting advice is to stop obsessing over what the competition are doing (category-led innovation) and start thinking creatively about how you can stretch your brand’s unique promise to the consumer (brand-led innovation).

Please do get in touch if you don’t yet have your brand promise nailed… or perhaps you need some direction on how to start activating innovation ideas against it.

First published 21st March @The Strategy Distillery

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Image credits: Norwegian Air, Gatorade

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Shelly GreenwayShelly Greenway is a front-end innovation strategist and partner at The Strategy Distillery – a brand innovation consultancy that specialises in opportunity hunting and proposition development. Their success rates are driven by their proprietary consumer co-creation IP. Follow @ChiefDistiller

Shelly Greenway

Front-end Innovation Strategist at The Strategy Distillery, a brand innovation consultancy that exists to increase NPD success rates.




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