6 Lessons From Millennials on Acting to Innovate
Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide
The hive of creative thinkers, innovators, marketers, entrepreneurs and other collective brain power that “innovate” is mighty enough to give anyone a bit of pause when considering what insight could be offered up that can help frame thinking around the opportunity that exists when creativity, passion and inspiration converge. I have witnessed the role communications and effective brand positioning should play in bringing an idea that becomes an invention and in turn transforms into an innovation once it reaches those who can benefit from it most.
“… If you are an innovator you have some level of power because you change the way people live.”
But the words, like those above from a participant in recent consumer panels we conducted on how millennials view innovation and its impact, are what struck me as being of the most value to share with anyone considering how to create, build and scale innovative thinking. For our research, we chose to focus on millennials because of the significant role they are playing in not only changing the new ways in which we shop, learn, share and experience innovation in its many forms but in creating them.
And they have strong points of view. I’ve distilled down a few observations from reviewing these panel findings and would summarize them as follows:
It takes innovation to build a strong brand: Although millennials clearly view brands as being in the business of driving profit, they often linked specific brands (e.g., Apple, Microsoft, Nike, Amazon and Toyota, to name a few) to innovation the most strongly. Your brand can quickly become identified or dismissed by its innovation, or lack thereof.
Innovation is all about “me”: Innovation is highly influential to this younger audience in terms of its day-to-day impact and seen as a necessity for societal and technological advancement. However, the overarching perspective of innovation is fairly limited to the individual and taking something to the next level with little expression of a greater worldly context.
Innovation scales from wasteful to world-changing: Among this younger audience, everything is innovation and seems to be perceived as a continuum from it being superfluous and wasteful to it being essential to the advancement or betterment of society. Ideally, responsible innovation would be used for societal progress and fulfill needs while being cognizant of the longer-term consequences (societal, environmental, political, etc.).
The personal impact of innovation is varied and not guaranteed to be a positive: This young audience is inundated with innovation, constantly consuming it from the time they wake up in the morning until the time they go to bed. Innovation and this generation are inseparable. The impact innovation has on the lives of this generation is varied and, at times, contradictory. In some ways, it makes life easier and simplified, yet in other ways it makes things more complicated or convoluted.
Innovators are perceived differently than inventors: Inventors create or establish a new idea or product, and innovators leverage creativity to make an established idea or product better or different.
Innovation doesn’t equate to impact: Cause-marketing campaigns and simply saying your innovation makes a positive impact in the world are nowhere near enough to resonate with this group. They must experience it personally, see it and hear it told to them by others who have no stake in its success.
So what does this mean for you as your creative thinking takes hold within your organizations and you bring innovations to market? Your brand only will be as relevant and impactful as how you choose to act. TOMS Shoes is an example of a company that has purposefully set out to act in a way that supported its innovation position. Zappos is another example of a brand that set out to simply act as it believes it should be experienced, and built its innovation brand from that premise.
Of course sharing your story is important, but as Arthur Page, one of our industry leaders, once said: “… perception is 10% what you say, and 90% what you do ….” Acting with purpose and a clear vision of how your work will improve the world is the basis of any innovation that can make a true, lasting and meaningful impact.
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