There must be a reason why the same Broadway shows get revived, again and again. Why is it that every other movie that comes out is a sequel? Why do the same songs keep getting covered down through the generations, from “My Way” to “Stand by Me”?
The principle is simple: People like what they know. And when we go to spend money on pretty much anything – from $200 play tickets to a $1.29 digital audio file – we want to maximize our probability of satisfaction and comfort.
The essence of branding
This is, after all, the essence of branding; when a company or product or entertainer does something consistently well, we come to trust that brand – and we give it our business.
But, as we saw in the examples above, familiarity can become a crutch – even an impediment. As you are listening to your favorite band play your favorite album live for the umpteenth time, you may notice that the thrill is not quite the same. Sure, you knew what you were going to get, and you do like it. But where is the excitement of risk and discovery, the adventure of busting out and maybe waking up a few new brain cells?
The hazard of brand inertia
Brand and product managers can suffer from the same laziness or inertia; and for them, it can truly become a hazard. You think you are resting happily in your sweet spot – and then you notice your competitors a half mile down the road in front of you. By the time you get used to standing up and walking again, they’ll be way past the horizon.
In the world of product development, the word innovation gets plenty of use, but if we look at what we are doing with a critical eye - from the perspective of a new customer or hungry competitor - we may discover that we are actually iterating, and not truly innovating.
What is the difference? Iteration is advancement through noticeable but modest improvements. In short, incrementalism. Your new car gets slightly better mileage than the last one. Your new TV set is a few inches bigger and has better resolution than the one you just put on the curb. Your new credit card gives you 1% cash back…but how long will it take to get rich on those rewards?
Unlocking true breakthrough innovation
Too often, brand managers refer to this kind of iterating as innovating. Rather than taking a bold, risky leap, they stay mostly with what they know – only tweaking on the fringes. And the scary part is that your loyal customers may seem to embrace this, rewarding your “small” thinking because they loved you before and don’t want to see you change too much. That is, until one of your competitors comes out with a breakthrough innovation – something that truly changes their lives in meaningful ways – and then you are toast.
Find inspiration – whether through breakthrough products of the past or unfamiliar stimuli of all kinds, it is essential to go beyond drudgery and really feel enlivened and emboldened by your innovation.
Leverage a framework – it is hard to get to any destination without a map or a few guideposts; even the best guitar solos are following some sort of a key or time signature. A proven context and approach for helping innovation take shape is key.
Future-proof your brand – think not about the market you have today, but the one you are likely to be facing five or ten years from now. What will still be impressive to consumers, even then?
The takeaway is clear: To make the most out of your brand, and even your own career, do not become an oldies act. The key is learning to feel comfortable breaking the rules that you yourself probably wrote; and once you’ve tasted that feeling, you will probably find it delicious.