Open Your "I's": Inquire, Inspire, and Innovate
By Charles Rashall In today's ultra-competitive business environment, companies have trimmed every ounce of fat and now must find ways to improve the top-line. To that end, innovation provides one of the most important tools to generate new revenue producing opportunities. Innovation requires the proper work environment and set of practices that promote inquiry, discovery, insight, and inspiration. Surprisingly, some of the greatest innovations are simple and obvious when you "open your "I's".
The Need for Innovation

Many factors are driving the need for companies to innovate to remain
competitive. Ironically, while technology has enabled the creation of
many new product categories, advancements in technology have also
made it easier to replicate successful offerings. This makes it harder
and harder to differentiate products and services within a given category. Within the pharmaceutical industry, for example, allergy sufferers can choose from Claritin or Alavert which both contain the same active ingredient, Loratadine. Product proliferation has further muddied consumer's ability to recognize clear, meaningful and distinct value between offerings within a given category. And lacking differentiation that offers true consumer benefits, brands are often forced to use trivialities such as packaging graphics ("see our exciting new look") or copy / naming (i.e. "new and improved ‘Ultra' Brand X") to create "fresh" offers. Even with successful brands, it's difficult to grow without innovation particularly when market share and penetration are high. Witness products in the Vodka category and even the mega-brand, Coke, which have developed multiple line extensions through flavor additives like vanilla and lime, to continue sales momentum. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to innovation is today's business environment, which promotes reactive vs. proactive behavior. With skeletal staffs and pressures to meet short-term objectives, workers are literally "heads-down" in their day-to-day routines. Such pressures often lead to the need to focus on tactical solutions that can be executed quickly in lieu of looking for long-term strategic brandadvisors 7/24/04 Reproduction not permitted without express written permission from brandadvisors The scores of daily emails, voicemails, conference calls, instant messages, and meetings only detract from the ability to look forward, regularly observe conditions in the market and develop fresh perspectives and solutions.
Successful Innovators Abound

Despite a challenging business climate, many companies, large and
small, are unveiling innovative products and services. Take paint for
example. While it has been in use for centuries, it was only within the recent past that a manufacturer developed packaging with an ergonomically designed handle and a pour spout that minimized spillage and mess. Until then, painters would have to accept the awkwardness and discomfort from the thin metal paint can handle. And it was further "accepted" that even the most careful pourer would still have paint dribbling down the side of the can, soiling clothes, floors, and body. This fresh approach to packaging created new "product features" that provided strong differentiation with real consumer value. This was particularly valuable in a category that is hard to differentiate across brands. And what it took was a company willing to challenge the industry's multi-decade long standard packaging practices. Even in a category as staid as durable goods, Maytag has recently introduced a product that addresses an unmet laundry need for drying delicate clothes like sweaters and lingerie. Until the release of their new drying center product--—a rectangular cabinet with racks and hangers that mounts above a traditional dryer unit—such garments couldn't be put in the dryer without damage or shrinking. Perhaps one of the simpler yet brilliant recent product innovations was Arm & Hammer's development of special packaging for its baking soda product. In an era when baking soda is used more frequently as a refrigerator deodorizer than for its originally intended purpose of baking, Arm & Hammer created a new box with removable front and rear panels that allows air to travel through built-in filters. This new packaging greatly enhances the deodorizing process. It also prevents spillage, common with the prior practice of having an open box top. Here, innovation transformed the packaging from a containing device into an integral component of the product benefit. brandadvisors 7/24/04 Reproduction not permitted without express written permission from brandadvisors As a greater share of the GDP is driven by services, it is important to recognize that innovation can and should play an important role in improving them. It often takes a new category entrant to make such radical changes to services, particularly in industries that have long- entrenched practices. JetBlue had this advantage of starting fresh and was able to transform the commercial airline experience. They examined and then re- engineered the total airline experience to the delight of frustrated and unsatisfied passengers. From live, in-seat satellite TV to leather seats, the airline delivers never-before imagined entertainment as well as much improved comfort. JetBlue pays attention to even the smallest subtleties like germ-phobia, which is addressed by disbursing anti-bacterial wipes during flights. Clearly, each of the above examples demonstrates that innovation addresses real consumer needs, delivers strong user benefits, provides
relevant differentiation, and ultimately leads to business success.
Fostering the Innovative Spirit
Innovation comes through inquiry and observation that lead to insights that then inspire innovation. To foster an environment for innovation, companies must allow their employees to have a tolerance for change and an ability to challenge the status quo, despite how successful the business may be. Such an environment encourages exercises that allow out-of-box thinking and set the rule to reserve judgment during any ideation or brainstorming process. One approach is to think about how you would design your product or service today if you were starting with a blank slate. And simply being constantly vigilant, aware, and observant will inevitably lead to powerful insights. Companies should also strive to understand the totality of their customer's experience within their category. This means observing customers in as close to real "use" situations as possible, in addition to utilizing traditional research practices. These observations will reveal both subtle and possibly significant nuances in behavior that may uncover shortcomings of current offerings or identify unmet opportunities for new offerings. Customers of competitors should also be studied to provide added perspective. brandadvisors 7/24/04 Reproduction not permitted without express written permission from brandadvisors Further, it is advised that workers have the opportunity to leave the routine of their day-to-day physical work environment on a periodic basis so that they may be exposed to new stimuli and novel approaches to their duties. Leaving the home-turf also eliminates the distractions that can hinder creativity. Visit places where your customers may be, i.e. through retail audits within or outside your category. Establish interchange and visits with other companies to exchange knowledge and best practices, particularly between non-competitors, but who engage in similar functional practices. For example, McDonalds might gain insights to
enhance their counter-staff service experience by observing how
service is delivered in other product / service environments.
Implications and Opportunities

The fruits of discovery and inspiration can take many forms. One of
the logical places to begin exploring opportunities for innovation is through brand extensions, enabled by examining and understanding your current brand promise and equities. For growth, a brand that is defined by a broad but relevant and distinct idea is easier to extend than a brand that is defined specifically by its product or service characteristics. Because the Apple brand represents "individual expression" (in the author's interpretation) as opposed to "personal computers," the company was able to extend its offering into the music segment and achieve phenomenal success. Further, the DieHard brand could be viewed as "the long lasting, premium battery that starts under any conditions", but could also be defined by the broader idea of "reliability". Taking the latter concept, DieHard could extend its brand into products where reliability is paramount, such as generators, flashlights, or even computer hard-drives. Thus, to successfully extend brands into new product areas first requires a very clear understanding of what your brand stands for today. Another opportunity for product innovation is to examine how the physical properties of the product itself may be altered to provide an enhanced use experience. What's important here is to not limit your brandadvisors 7/24/04 Reproduction not permitted without express written permission from brandadvisors focus to the improvement of the primary product function. Look beyond, as in the case of the paint can, for ancillary user experience opportunities that could be improved. Finally, packaging may provide a unique and relevant innovation opportunity that may serve to better display, store, deliver, or use a product. Arm & Hammer's deodorizing pack, Heinz Ketchup's bottom-dispensing bottle, and Listerine's breath-strips are just a few examples of how packaging itself provides strong consumer benefits of effectiveness, speed, and portability, respectively.
With an unmatched breadth of experience, limited client base, and senior staff
dedicated throughout each assignment, brandadvisors provides focus, attention,
objectivity, and expertise to help clients align all critical stakeholder interactions
with a meaningful and distinctive value proposition. Our proprietary brandalign™
service helps clients increase efficiency, lower costs, drive preference, increase
purchase, and strengthen long-term loyalty. Our clients range from small niche
players to Fortune 50 companies.
brandadvisors leads workshops and training sessions to promote innovation,
conducted in the field, at client locations, at it's San Francisco headquarters and at
its Napa Valley executive retreat. Contact Charles Rashall at 415-393-0800 or
[email protected] for further information.
brandadvisors 7/24/04 Reproduction not permitted without express written permission from brandadvisors



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Case Study 06.qxd 3/30/06 3:44 PM Page 6-1 A d o l e s c e n t Adapted from Thomson Delmar Learning's Case Study Series: Pediatrics, by Bonita E. Broyles, RN, BSN,MA, PhD. Copyright © 2006 Thomson Delmar Learning, Clifton Park, NY. All rights reserved. ■ White American ■ Doxycycline (Vibramycin) ■ Sexually active teenager ■ Confidentiality of minor client