As Chief Idea Guy at the innovation agency, Growth Engine, I am continually striving to help our clients broaden the perception of the what their brands could be, and the value they can ultimately deliver to their customers.

And, as experts in both group idea-generation processes and qualitative research, the Growth Engine team is in a unique position, as the American expression goes, to “eat our own dog food;” that is, apply the new product ideation and research competencies we use on behalf of our clients, to invent new brand-innovation methodologies that can expand the ways marketers innovate and grow their brands.   

And so, here are three of most successful “brand re-invention” processes and services we have invented and validated on behalf of our clients.

Retailers as Brand Development Partners

The NY Times Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and best-selling author, Thomas Friedman, has a favorite expression: “In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car.” The point of course is that unless we have a stake in the outcome, or pride of ownership if you will, it is difficult to get involvement, much less true support from an “outside” third party.

This is the challenge addressed by a service we created called Trade Link. By involving the retail buyer directly in the manufacturer’s brand extension and new product development process, experience has shown the buyer is “exponentially more likely” to support the new product introduction. How does Trade Link work? Simple.

  1. We conduct qualitative research, usually traditional focus groups, with the retailer’s shoppers who buy both our clients’ and competitive brands within a specific category.
  2. We then create a video highlight reel – 8 to 10 minutes – of the most insightful/provocative clips from the 10 hours of focus group research to both direct and inspire an ideation session. For example, the research might identify problems shoppers have in the store, wishes they have for new products/flavors, or new product categories our client’s brand could extend into.
  3. We design and facilitate a joint three-hour new product idea generation session at the retailer’s headquarters with both the retailer’s buying team, and our client. Typically, anywhere from 25 – 40 new product ideas are generated in this session.

Because of the buyer’s involvement in our client’s new product and brand development process, we have never had an assignment that didn’t lead to at least one – and sometimes as many as four – successful new product introductions.  

Adopting a Brand Disruptor Mindset

Competitive role playing, war gaming, and scenario planning (pioneered by Shell Oil, and detailed in the classic book, The Art of the Long View) has been around for decades…. if not millennia.  

Today, global competition, increased M & A activity, and the pace of technological advances have placed established brands in even greater jeopardy of losing significant market share and/or entire businesses from unanticipated competitive incursions.

It was exactly because of this increasingly-competitive, and frankly hard-to-predict new world, that led us to create the strategy service we call Disruptive War Gaming.

Disruptive War Gaming combines the best practices of established war gaming methodologies, with an innovative twist. It helps helps marketers generate both defensive strategies to fend off established competitors, as well as new initiatives that anticipate new business models from unconventional potential industry disruptors. Who might these potential industry disruptors be? Large, well-funded firms such as Amazon, Google, Walmart, or Apple with their established customer bases, innovative business models and deep pockets, are the most likely disruptors.  

A good example of this was a Disruptive War gaming session we ran with the leaders of a large US Insurance company. In the “disruptive” role play day, it didn’t take long for the senior executives to realize that if either Walmart or Amazon entered the insurance business with a lower cost, more convenient insurance option, their business could be severely compromised, and quickly.  With the alarm bell rung, this forward-thinking insurance company then developed innovative new business models, including joint venture initiatives, to anticipate and “invent the future” before potential disruptors.

Creating Global Brand Innovations… Virtually

If you’re on a global brand team, you may have encountered what we call “the global innovation paradox.” On the one hand, global companies want the marketing and operational efficiencies that come from developing marketing “master brands.” On the other hand, customizing a global master brand to meet the needs of local markets, while critical, can also be both expensive and time consuming.

So, how can global companies innovate successfully AND efficiently? Our answer has been in the development of a process we call, “Global Virtual Ideation.”

In Global Virtual Ideation, state-of-the-art ideation techniques and thought-provoking stimuli are delivered virtually. Teams can work literally around the clock submitting ideas for specific brand challenges. The trick, because of the unique needs of each local market, is to use the employees worldwide not only to generate new ideas, but to have these teams also find the stimuli to inspire winning ideas from their global co-workers.

So, for instance, in developing innovations for an international pain reliever with 18 worldwide offices, we asked all 18 global brand innovation teams to look outside the world of pain relievers in their local markets and find interesting examples of innovative new packaging, promotion, distribution models, and new products concepts… which could then be used to inspire breakthrough ideas from the entire worldwide team. It’s a quick, inexpensive, and highly effective way to generate big ideas for master brands that can be customized to local markets.

Turns out global brand teams are not only great at adapting big ideas for their local markets. They are also great at finding the stimuli to inspire their co-workers to generate these breakthrough ideas!