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Smart agency principals look beyond technology for innovation.

April 25, 2012

Who are really the most innovative companies?

I’m really happy that my favorite brand made the #1 position on Fast Company’s “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” list (November 2012) the top four are: Apple for their Siri voice assistant, Facebook’s Timeline interface, Google for the reinvention of YouTube as a niche-programming powerhouse and Amazon because of its new Kindle Fire tablet. Pretty hard to argue with the idea generation that has produced the outcomes of these guys, wouldn’t you agree?

But, I thought they said “most innovative companies”. Is innovation status reserved just for those who produce innovative products? What about those with other innovations? There are fifty innovative companies on the list but it is a tech-dominated review. Some of the less recognized, to me, are the brilliantly built and innovative brands: Starbucks, Patagonia, Chipotle, and Siemens. For me, #1 stands out, not just for innovative products, but also for its brand.

In my opinion, Apple, way more than any of the others, can be innovative because of its brand. According to Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, determined from the start that Apple would challenge the status quo and empower the individual – always. And that is the pattern that is repeated in every product they develop. Apple’s brand dictated that when entering the cellular phone category that they not enter with just another cell phone with new features – no, they entered with a totally innovative mobile computing device that just happened to place calls as well. And don’t forget that the mp3 player had been around for a while (Creative Technology Ltd. introduced their mp3 player twenty-two months earlier) when Apple introduced the iPod. But the iPod didn’t just provide music in your pocket, like so many others, it revolutionized the music industry. Again, the industry altering, “Challenge the status quo” (Think Different) brand positioning of Apple dictated the iPod do this.

So, I can identify a lot of Apple-like companies that didn’t make the list. How about Tom’s Shoes? Their products are very different and refreshing. And because of their positioning: “One for One” they give a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair someone buys – pretty innovative and brand driven. What about Southwest Airlines – very innovative and all brand driven. The list goes on and on.

All this leads me to conclude that you do not have to be a tech giant to be among the most innovative companies. I’ll bet Ajax Ball Bearings of Sioux Falls could be a pretty innovative company with the discovery of their “Why” as Sinek puts it, and some good brand development help.

By Tom Traynor

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The Brand Establishment perfected the first contemporary brand development process specifically for small to mid-sized advertisers more than two decades ago. These tools and procedures have been utilized by companies in virtually every business sector – hundreds of times.