How Brands survive with Innovation and the essentials of a good invention

Ever wonder how some brands survive through time, generations and are future ready, too? Is there a set of rules to replicate their successes? Marketing books would expound through theory and the winning formula. However, sometimes all one needs is commonsense. Accurate observations, capturing stories across life stages and then finding patterns, could get one started.

I started by turning back the clock. By first looking at inventions and big ideas that shaped mankind – then picking brands that shared a common thread.

In circa 3500 BC in Asia/Africa, the spindle was developed and the wheel was invented. Its avatar today in the 21st century is an improvisation, to make it faster, smarter and more effective. I could continue this thought to question whether the Internet is as big an invention in the context of the tectonic shift it has achieved at geographic proportions. It possibly is just as large and wide in its impact.

So we see a pattern. All ‘real inventions’ (like big ideas), as opposed to the ‘burp inventions’, have some things in common:

1. Multi-Purpose Efficiencies:

Look back at the circular wheel with a hub and spokes. Over time, it was used to produce fabric, transportation, accurate time telling and what not. Here was an invention that was productive in multiple ways.

So be resourceful. Like Apple.

Its story is to ‘simplify life and create exciting experiences with technology’ – and it does that effortlessly. A woman in her morning jog with her iPod, a graphic artist who can’t live without his design partner – the iMac, and a budding musician who simply relishes iPhone applications, all swear by Apple.

2. Mass Populi Appeal:

Sharper in their vision statement, most real inventions were useful to many. After all, popularity grows when the ‘populi’ follow. Religion and the concept of God were large concepts and all places of worship continue to thrive because of the congregation.

So create tribes. Like Google.

It created a community by simply collapsing the world into a ‘Search Engine’. It disseminated knowledge, excitement, helped organise life and what not. All it did was show the way like a lighthouse – to harness a world created by borders. Today, Gmail, Reader and Buzz are serving as aggregators.

3. Media Neutrality:

‘Find the purpose and the means shall follow’ is the popular saying. Similarly, every idea finds its own messenger. For Mahatma Gandhi, defiance against exploitation of India was what created the ‘Salt Satyagraha’. Once you found a story built on moments that changed lives, you always had the pigeon to carry it (or today, a fat pipe – that is, if you have a broadband connection).

So first think life altering truths. Like Nike.

Built on the truth of what drives humans to better themselves, Nike’s thought, ‘Just do it’, is inspiring. It’s a philosophy that extols passion, as seen with co-founder Phil Knight, who has the swoosh logo tattooed on his ankle. Athletes, who stand by Nike, are in love with and excel in their sport, too. What follows is the transferring of these emotions through multi-media. In summary, Purpose is greater than Means.

4. Managing Expectations:

Good Ideas, like inventions, manage a series of images and stories. The most difficult to manage are those created for many geographies or those that see the passage of time. It’s no surprise what happened to the original Walkman that was a mini innovation, but refused to manage its equity as a contemporary music and entertainment disseminator.

So know your worth. Like the Taj Group of Hotels.

I felt its aura every time I heard, ‘She’s the Taj’. Both my personal experience and whispers had told me what to expect. Beautifully balanced by the seen and unseen stories, the Taj Group has consistently celebrated the legacy of royal Indian hospitality across properties. It lives up to those expectations today, for admirers and those who walk down her corridors anywhere in the world.

5. Measurable Returns:

Often, the invention precedes the inventor if it’s born simply out of self-love. If the inventor must be rewarded, then in his time, the work must bear fruition. Mozart’s passion won the ears of many, but he died unsung. Then shrewd record companies made their fortunes by maximising his work once he was gone. What a pity for a great composer.

So create for them not you. Like the Nano.

Who can doubt the intention and the returns that the Nano is likely to generate! With the emotion of uplifting the two-wheeler owner and providing security to ‘his family’, the essence of Nano is clearly outward looking. Given its pricing, it’s interesting that it has managed to appeal to the second car buyers, too.

6. Micro and Macro Gazing:

The awe in prophecies (which foretells based on today’s micro trends and emerging macro trends) comes from the possibilities. Its currency is to observe the details and open the third eye to capture ‘the big next’. The radio was a fabulous invention that began as ‘wireless telegraphy’ and has stayed on, albeit without the transistor. However, the telegraph, as a means of communication, just couldn’t have anticipated the telephone, email or even Skype as a distance dissolver.

So avoid myopia, set new benchmarks. Like Toyota.

Anticipating fuel concerns in the future and with the anxiety around environment protection, Toyota has been providing responsible and sustainable concepts for years. Contemporary in its styling, power and driving experience, it has created a range of hybrids without compromising. Besides fuel efficiency, it’s possibly the lowest carbon footprint car.

7. Memorability:

All stories that stick find newer expressions over time. They get rewritten, retold and rechristened. The power of the mind and the heart to absorb these impactful inventions and let them linger through generations makes the concept of the wheel give momentum to jets on their mission.

So never stop reinventing your story. Like Disney.

A delightful brand, it’s just as refreshing today as it was 30 years ago. The power of its stories has helped it go beyond its characters to animation, while creating experiences through Disneyworld across the world, from the US to Hong Kong. Staying memorable by arousing the senses, it’s unforgettable and hard to resist.

Real inventions, big ideas and inspiring stories will always find space for the ‘7M’s that inevitably create magic. Now, map more brands – both local and global – on these seven winning buttons. Who’s for real and who will burp in the future? What do you think?

(The author is managing partner and chief strategy officer, Law & Kenneth)

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