True innovation is elusive. It’s incredibly hard to find real advantage and bring it to market, and even more difficult to sustain this meaningful edge for any length of time in the full face of competition and consumer interrogation these days.
For anyone involved in marketing, being part of any new innovation is both inspiring and memorable. ‘Victory has 100 fathers, defeat is an orphan’ to quote a combination of Tacitus, Ciano and JFK, but I too claim my part in a very successful brand creation.
Working with the then British Bakeries, I helped name and launch the ‘Holy Grail’ of bread, a loaf with all the goodness of brown zipped up in the great taste and texture of white. The Hovis Best of Both brand has endured, but this dynamic category in bread has been joined by serious competitors, 50:50 and Half & Half, with both the Kingsmill and Warburton’s brands respectively learning and following hot on Hovis’s innovative heels.
‘Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow’, as written by William Pollard (1911-1989) an American Physicist and Episcopal priest.
Over the years many brands have met their comeuppance through this arrogance and its resultant damaging complacency, with their falls being initiated by a new competitor on the block with new thinking. Infamous examples include Blockbuster (c/o Netflix), Kodak (c/o failing to capitalise on its own invention of digital photography), Blackberry (c/o Apple iPhone) and the entire paper publishing industry (c/o smart screen and box technology).
More recently the once impervious Schweppes brand is having its tonic water crown torn off by the relentless emergence of the Fever-Tree brand, in league with the explosion of premium gins and vodkas such as Silent Pool and Black Cow, and perhaps more significantly, the change from punitive ‘adult soft drinks’ to more sophisticated and authentic non-alcoholic propositions like Seedlip.
Successful and, importantly, sustainable innovation can be thwarted by a whole range of things. Resting on your laurels, focusing on one successful proposition without accepting that something better can and will come along (and sooner than you think) is an all too easy mistake to make. Only targeting today’s consumer needs without anticipating how these will change in the future is another. And failing to upgrade technology and move with the times are equally fatal.
The role and need for ‘failure’ in innovation is well-documented and accepted, and success in it requires incredible perseverance. It was the prolific American inventor Thomas Edison (1847-1931) who said ‘Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’. Successful innovation takes hard work and a dedication second to none. If the nay-sayers in your own company don’t confound you at every stage, then your competitors undoubtedly will be lying in wait to both copy and most likely better your idea. Having an eye (or two!) constantly on the future is essential to maintaining long term success.
Being aware of and understanding how to track consumer trends and subsequent behaviours are key to inspiring meaningful innovation. However, brands also need to be careful not to jump on the next ‘band-wagon’ without having a relevant product or motivating brand story.
‘Craft’ is one such current trend, which is proving to be a rather fat word, open to many different interpretations (including real people, vintage, handcrafted, irreverence, simplicity, sustainability, purity of ingredients and authenticity). In the main ‘craft brands’ tend to be more artisanal in approach, made in smaller runs and with elements of traditional and hand-made production and packaging. Think cottage industries, craft ales, hand signed labels and single batch distillation.
Whilst some of these new ‘craft’ offerings are excellent, some have rather forgotten the old adage that ‘behind every great brand is a great product’. My ‘Millennial’ son, now 23, keeps filling our fridge at home with endless craft beers. Whilst their designs are distinctive and irreverent, some of them leave a lot to be desired taste wise!
My favourite iterations of ‘craft’ brands currently include the Isle of Harris Gin, Black Cow Vodka and Seedlip brands. Whether ‘infused with sugar kelp from the Outer Hebrides’, ‘made entirely from the milk of grass grazed cows’ or being ‘the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit’ respectively, each offers the market something distinct and compelling, with unique products that deliver in spades.
Above: Ben Branson, innovator and founder of Seedlip (picture: Tom Oldfield)
Innovators now will also have their brand propositions and products ‘interrogated’ by today’s dominant consumers. These punchy and opinionated Millennials & Generation Zers are so well connected that they can drop you as quickly as they adopted you if you put a foot wrong in sustainability or communication. Uber, any companies that don’t pay tax and the entire plastic industry generally look currently vulnerable in the very public spotlight.
Sun Branding Solutions is well placed to help brands and businesses innovate. With the technical capability of our parent group, Sun Chemical, the world’s largest producer of inks and pigments, the packaging technology nous of our in-house Pack Science specialists and the bright thinking of our creative arm, Parker Williams, we work with our clients in close partnership to find and deliver true and sustainable innovation.
Come and see us on the Packaging News stage at 1pm on 28 February where we’ll talk more about innovation.