Innovation: Show Don’t Tell

Why the most innovative B2B brands don't use the word "innovation"
lightbulb made of gears

If we had to sum up B2B branding in 2015, we would do it with one word: innovation. It has been a recurring theme in almost every one of our conversations with B2B companies in recent months. From the CMO to the CEO, B2B executives have been laser-focused on building brands that convey innovation.

When did this word become so ingrained in our lexicon? According to Google Ngram, the term really started to gain traction in the 1950’s, leveled off a bit in the 1980’s and has had a sharp increase in usage over the past decade. Today it’s ubiquitous in B2B brands … and as a result practically meaningless.

The desire to innovate is understandable. In most industries, including but not limited to technology, only companies that constantly challenge themselves and continuously improve will survive. We are constantly amazed and inspired by the ways in which many of the companies we work with are having real impact on the world around us. As business strategies shift to adjust to this innovation imperative, so too must brand strategies. Hence so many of our conversations with new B2B clients start with a stated desire to brand around innovation.

The only effective way to authentically convey innovation is to dig deep enough to uncover the reasons to believe. What are your company’s innovation proof points? Is it your people? Your technology? Your intellectual capital? Your perspective on the marketplace? Why is this different from your competitors?

The answers to these questions form the basis of a truly unique and compelling innovation brand that doesn’t need to include the word itself. For a global financial services client, this meant demonstrating the ways in which it had continuously set precedents over the past century, shaping its industry. For another client, a technology leader, innovation was expressed through its people, and their unique mix of expertise that enabled them to solve clients’ most complex problems. Innovation can be expressed through design as well. For a technology trade association, we built a visual brand that resonates as strongly with conservative Washington regulators as with Silicon Valley app developers.

However it is expressed, all B2B brands need to find new and interesting ways to demonstrate innovation without using the word itself. From a business perspective, the need for innovation has never been more important. But from a brand perspective, the word has become hollow. We’re all ready to be inspired. B2B companies that figure out a way around innovation fatigue will be the ones that will truly stand out – and above – the competition.

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