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Innovation branding is emerging as a vital ingredient of a firm’s innovation strategy.
But few organisations have developed a sophisticated approach to innovation branding.
We look at two that have.

In the long shadow of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Innovation Statement, the University of New South Wales has responded with its very own “innovation statement”. It closely aligns with what was identified in the federal government’s statement but adds flavour directed at growing what I am increasingly calling an “innovation brand”.

Like an employer brand for innovation

Just as employers have developed a series of techniques, focuses, storytelling techniques and metrics to attract talent to their business under the moniker “employer branding”, so too will we start to see work around “innovation branding”. Aligning with core brand principles, the “innovation brand” speaks directly to the ways in which stakeholders, customers, employees and partners experience innovation as part of your business as usual.

When we worked with Qantas to produce their very first hackathon, innovation branding was top of mind. This was not simply “yet another hackathon” – it was a carefully designed, curated and hosted experience that brought business owners and teams into creative tension with outside developers, designers and marketers.

The innovation brand has experience at its heart

Because innovation is largely intangible in its development and its process, it can be difficult to comprehend it from a business point of view. In many respects, innovation is like art – provoking a personal response to an experience – “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”. This is why innovation branding is about creating experiences.

At the Qantas Hackathon, we established a collaborative, yet competitive environment in which experiments could be safely conducted. We brought in respected mentors and judges, provided teams with quality food, an unusual environment for the weekend’s coding and plenty of datasets that the teams could play with.

The innovation brand prizes storytelling

Because innovation is experiential, it is imperative that you develop your storytelling capabilities. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that “innovation doesn’t happen if there is no story”. It’s one thing to invent a new process or product, but without an artefact – without a story – no one will know, understand or care about your precious innovation. The innovation brand creates stories as it innovates.

The innovation brand is about shifting culture

One of the hallmarks of the innovation brand is that it resonates both internally and externally. It creates a culture of permission and experimentation that encourages creativity and makes it possible for innovation to emerge. For more traditional businesses, this can be lifesaver – protecting it from competitive and disruptive threats. And for newer businesses and startups, it helps maintain a focus on customer relevance, high performance and growth.

UNSW Innovation Statement

The UNSW innovation brand

On many of these fronts, the new UNSW innovation brand is well positioned:

  • Well targeted: As a university it is seeking to attract students to its courses, businesses to partnerships and awareness and funding to its programs
  • Experience-focused: Opportunities to participate in startup and incubator programs and to collaborate with potential leaders and CEOs is a powerful draw card
  • Storytelling: The 10 Innovations website is a great way to start showcasing the innovators and innovations that are emerging from the university
  • Cultural commitment: The focus on an innovation precinct is a long term, committed view of innovation for the university, its students, staff and alumni.

Like any brand program, there are many moving parts. And innovation branding will evolve over time. The question for forward thinking firms is no longer just about whether they should run a hackathon or do some design thinking. It’s about thinking into the future and creating an innovation brand that positions your business for success.