Branding Innovation – A Unique Idea is Not Enough; Branding Makes the Difference

by Youri Sawerschel , 18 March 2019

Having an innovative product is all well and good, but without smart positioning and a well-chosen frame of reference it will go the same way as so many other great ideas – ignored and forgotten.

Corporations and startups work on innovations in the hope of launching the next big thing. The thing that completely changes the game. But, the truth is, the chance of failure for new products and services is around seventy to eighty percent. Of course, there can be many reasons for this – poor timing, a lack of funding, people problems, etc. – but even with the perfect financing, team and product, success is far from a guarantee.

Why? Well, put simply, the market is crowded and you’re not the only one hoping for people’s attention. This is why branding is so essential in innovation.

And yet, too often innovators discount branding as fluffy, not serious enough next to the real work done in the lab. They trust that their unique, maybe even brilliant, idea will be sufficient. But we need not look far to throw this belief into question. Apple, for example, did not invent the smart watch, Tesla did not invent the electric car, and WeWork did not invent coworking – despite all dominating in their respective markets. Clearly, it is not all about the product.

Let’s be fair, the quality of the product obviously plays a role. You won’t go far with great branding if you have an awful product. But the opposite is also true: you won’t go far with a great product if your branding is letting it down.


So, what can branding do? Essentially, it is about giving your product or service context. Generally, people don’t buy just a product, they buy the idea behind it. So the first step is to define your frame of reference. Which means deciding how and where you want to position your product. Through what lens you want to look at it.

Let’s say your product is a drone and your frame of reference “hobbies”, then your competition will be other hobbies (computer games, kites, golf). If your frame of reference is adventure accessories, then your competition will be GoPro, etc. Defining in which category a product/service belongs impacts the entire marketing mix, and finding a frame of reference that differs from the competition can really help make a product stand out.

For example, let’s take the Apple Watch. Technically, the Apple Watch belongs to the category of consumer electronics. But Apple, unlike its competitors, understood that a watch is, above all, an aspirational product. So they they positioned it not as a gadget but as a high end fashion accessory.

They did not use the “i” in their branding – as with the iPhone, the iPad, etc. – thus distancing the watch from the rest of the product line, which has a frame of reference closer to high-end tech. On the launch of the watch they booked twelve pages in vogue; a high-end shoot that presented a luxury product – a jewel. On top of this they struck up a partnership with hermes, the french brand, to produce exclusive leather bands. This makes clear to consumers that the Apple Watch is not consumer electronics, it is fashion. Luxury. To us, it highlights the frame of reference’s huge influence on the marketing mix.

Fast forward a few years and Apple now dominates the smartwatch market. But did you notice, Apple itself has never used the term smart watch. It is just: the Apple Watch. Through intelligent positioning the Apple Watch has placed itself in a league of its own.

Brand Strategy, Technology