Perhaps Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard deserve a bit of blame. It was in Packard’s modest garage in Palo Alto, California — now a museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places — that the brainy duo developed their first product, an audio oscillator for testing sound equipment that Walt Disney bought and used in making his iconic film, Fantasia.
It’s an undeniably great story, and the founders of Hewlett-Packard (along with the HP Garage) have long been held up as a model for a particular type of innovation and product development: One where phenomenally smart people isolate themselves from the noise of the world and devise ingenious products that the world clamors to buy. Though it is still a valid template for entrepreneurs and startups, established companies with well-developed brands and product development teams should allow their brand identity to shape the conception, design, prototype, and fine-tuning of new ideas. And while revolutionary disruptions are rare, a company with a strong brand vision is open to the possibility of great innovations by building on its brand equity — stretching and extending into related areas.
Companies that have a clear, well-understood brand identity benefit when the products they develop reflect that brand; put another way, when there is a clear vision for a brand, new products are an expression of that vision. Clarifying your brand identity means that people will look out for and appreciate your innovations when they are launched. The most obvious example is Apple and its large suite of products. Nike is another good example, starting out as running shoes and expanding into everything from clothing to equipment to accessories.
Guided by Brand
At the idea generation phase, a strong understanding of brand serves as a screen to aid product developers as they try to prioritize different possibilities. For example, brand can help determine whether a company should stretch into a new category. If a company has been embraced for making healthy crackers, it likely would not be a stretch to also introduce a new type of bread. Some moves into new categories are less obvious, but still possible when a brand identity is strong; a sports drink known for high energy and adventure could extend its brand to making boogie boards or surf boards — this is particularly useful in a category that has become stale and is craving the brand equity the new company could bring to it.
Ensure Your Brand is Well-defined
There are plenty of nuances and questions to consider when it comes to the influence of brand in product development. Far too many companies have weak brand identities, which means that product developers can only guess which new innovations are the right ones. Companies that have numerous brands under one umbrella have more latitude in developing products. In those cases, product teams can work more freely to create products that meet customer needs and then decide which brand it fits best under.
Though a company that has just one brand will be somewhat more focused, it is still important to ensure that product developers have freedom. By definition, innovation pushes boundaries, and if people are not free to do that, they will not be sufficiently innovative. Regardless, step one is to do the hard work to ensure that a company understands its brand and what drives customer loyalty compared with its competitors. When that happens, innovation and new products will reinforce the brand, and vice-versa. Ensuring that products are developed in alignment with a company’s brand is key to maintaining brand integrity. When done properly, it is clear which innovations will serve as expressions of the brand and not as outliers. And each new expression fuels the innovation pipeline — stretching into a new area opens up the possibility of stretching into yet another category.
For more information on innovation and brand, please read our whitepaper ‘Avoiding New Product Development Traps’ or read our blogs, ‘How Important Is Innovation to Your Brand?‘, ‘Inspiring Smart Innovation (and Avoiding the Inane!)‘ and ‘Roadblocks, Inefficiency, and Risk: Exploring Alternatives to Innovation Research‘