The key to sustaining brand relevance? Continuous transformation

Right now, we’re in a turbulent time of brand transformation. New generations of consumers are seeking fresh, exciting experiences and are demanding new ways to interact with brands, particularly through digital innovations. Technology is a linchpin when it comes to providing customers with more powerful digital experiences. We’re seeing retailers interpret this by creating more open and interactive spaces with experiential stores, as well as investing more heavily in new tech integrations like smart mirrors. Restaurants are increasingly focusing on engaging eater-tainment models, blending food and interactivity. And every company, regardless of industry, is navigating how to integrate the latest and greatest tech capabilities to better serve, and impress, the modern consumer.

Today’s consumers are a tough crowd. They have little tolerance for shipping estimates longer than two days, they don’t just want to shop, they want to be presented with an experience, and they expect to do just about anything from their phones, from custom shoe fittings, to picking up groceries. And, thanks to the click-and-swipe nature of modern daily life, holding their attention is harder than ever.

For brands and businesses, this means the cycle of innovation is a fast spinning wheel. Today’s consumers can be tough to attract, and are even quicker to lose, should a competitor offer a compelling new value proposition or innovative experience. And while this can be disconcerting, it’s important to remember that they are open to new things and are willing to trial new brands that break boundaries and offer this to them.

Take for example, Ray Ban’s virtual try-on app which has evolved from a simple selfie overlaid with an image of sunglasses, to a fully-fledged augmented reality experience where users can see themselves wearing the glasses in a virtual mirror. While the initial versions of the feature sometimes struggled to correctly size the glasses, or comically placed them anywhere on your face but over your eyes, consumers gave the app a chance and provided Ray Ban with valuable learning and data on their preferences. Speed to market and a test and learn approach proved more valuable then striving for perfection on your first release. Consumers continue to use the app, all the way to its current, highly improved version.

Digital innovation is a goal we see for pretty much every company today, regardless of industry, but the reason so few manage to make it all the way to execution, is usually some variation of getting stuck in the “art-of-the-possible.” Successful execution requires a pragmatic approach to innovation that seeks to understand the value of the idea coupled with new capacity to delivery. 

This pragmatic approach is also a continuous cycle of learning, designing and delivering that must be built into an organization’s core operating model. The capacity must be built new and not isolated into some external lab. Since trends are rapidly changing and new technologies are becoming available every day, the innovation process as it exists today often results in outdated strategies by the time the process is complete. However, there are a couple of key reasons this shouldn’t stop brands from jumping in with both feet.

Chasing the latest trend isn’t innovation 

Digital innovation isn’t a cookie cutter objective. Yes, AR and facial recognition are trending technologies today, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t make sense for every brand across every industry to utilize these. Determining what kind of innovation will truly serve a brand and drive its business forward starts with the customer. 

Brands need to sit down and think long and hard about what will truly add value to experience. Are there technologies available that could radically improve convenience for customers? Or is the value they provide in the form of entertainment? Can you make the consumer feel as if they are understood through a deeper level of personalization? These are the questions brands need to ask to forge their own path. Your value proposition must never become tired in the eyes of the consumer.

Innovation will mean different things for different brands, so falling behind current trends shouldn’t be so much of a concern as incorporating new capabilities or technologies in a way that’s most valuable to the brand and its customer.

The digital innovation snowball 

Another reason the C-suite shouldn’t shy away from taking the first step towards a strategic shift or digital innovation, is because of what it means on a larger scale. Strategically flexible companies are the most capable of surviving shifting consumer habits and evolving marketplaces in the long-term. By beginning to create a process through which important strategic changes can be made efficiently, an innovation supply chain begins to form. Accelerating your capacity to deliver in this supply chain is your network of partners, each bringing strategic capabilities to your core teams.

For example, Cracker Barrel, the rustic dining and shopping chain recently shocked the restaurant industry when it announced an investment in the millennial-trendy concept group Punch Bowl Social. And yet, looking back, it’s clear Cracker Barrel has fostered a culture of innovation, from breaking barriers in the 60’s by offering an unheard-of experience combining restaurant and retail, to opening a fast casual chain, Holler & Dash, at the height of consumer’s desire for quicker, high quality food options.

One transformation tends to lead to many more, creating a culture of innovation and shifting the value of a firm from one core offering, to the company itself and its ability to continuously and adaptively offer value, in any customer market. What’s important to remember is that often the scariest part in your innovation efforts is getting started. With a pragmatic approach to innovation, you shouldn’t feel afraid to jump in!

In fact, in late July, legacy Tennessee-based restaurant chain Cracker Barrel Old Country Store announced investment in an unlikely new industry entrant: Punch Bowl Social, a trendy restaurant concept group focusing on upending the typical restaurant experience with experiential food, games and entertainment.

While the contrasting partnership was initially met with some surprise, it critically signifies the awareness of emerging industry trends and the importance of not falling behind with the modern consumer. Whether or not eater-tainment becomes the future of restaurant success, its strategic flexibility proves it can identify changing consumer values and is confident enough to make the leap and adjust accordingly.

With all industries rapidly resettling with today’s digital and social media transformation, this strategic flexibility is a top metric in considering a brand’s overall durability. Especially for larger brands, which tend to be strongly rooted in static strategies, change can be difficult to initiate quickly enough to catch up to current industry trends. However, in order to keep up with today’s innovative startups and survive the changing landscapes, the question isn’t whether to revamp your strategy, it’s how.

Take a hard look at current brand strategy 

Corporations, like people, often have a hard time admitting they could improve. However, as with people, there’s always room for improvement and this is even more true in our current marketplace where industry disruption has become the new normal. The modern consumer’s needs and desires are changing faster, and are higher than ever before. Keeping up with them demands full-time consideration.

Brands should start by taking a hard look at their current strategies and throwing out any preconceived notions of what needs to stay or go. Adopting the lean, untethered approach of a modern-day startup allows legacy corporations to make the big decisions necessary to stay as strategically flexible and innovative as newer competitors.

Actively voicing areas that are becoming outdated or could specifically benefit from newer tech capabilities or experiences will help launch a brand forward, keeping them relevant for the modern-day consumer.

Make the leap 

Many brands are able to complete the first step of the process, recognizing areas in need of transformation, but struggle to follow through with the actual integration once capital and real plans to make a strategic change are solidified. 

When current strategies become outdated, initiating swift change is paramount to remaining relevant because new trends are always on the horizon. By nature, innovation is a continuous process, not a one-time jump.

Brands should focus on building out the capabilities to execute these timely strategic shifts. Just as brands maintain optimal supply chains to quickly push out product as necessary, so too should they work to sustain an innovation process that can quickly initiate new strategies.

In the business of innovation, it’s important to remember that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each strategic change is impactful, but a brand’s corporate adaptability to stay in tune with consumer’s changing needs and have the confidence to adjust accordingly, is a sign toward its long-term resiliency. 

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