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Innovation is Simpler Than We Make it Out to Be

How many times this week have you heard about an innovative new beverage brand or package?  A WSJ article last month pointed out, “Innovation is in danger of becoming a cliché – if it isn’t one already.”  It’s an overused buzzword in too many industries, but may be none so more than in the beverage industry where the need to differentiate on the shelves is more intense than ever.

Flavored spirits, new interactive soft drink dispensing machines, and more styles of nano craft beers are all examples of a constant wave of new product innovations created to meet an increasingly adventurous and experimental consumer.  Not to mention new package designs.

While some new non-alc SKUs, for example, do in fact reflect fresh thinking, most of them don’t; they are often nothing more than clever, overly-complicated packaging gimmicks or new flavors that don’t provide any real function. These attempts often aren’t cheap. New packaging ideas for some non-alcoholic start-ups, for example, result in low margins and can often be the reason for a brand’s failure. What’s more, they can often confuse or disappoint the consumer.

There’s a better way to think about innovation. In a recent blog on the Harvard Business Review site, a London-based consultant and economist, Umair Haque, makes the case that awesomeness is the new innovation. As Haque points out, innovation is less about raw creativity than it is factors like ethical production (e.g., Starbucks’ switch to Fair Trade coffee beans) and loving what we do (think of the salespeople at an Apple store versus those at a Best Buy store).  Making “insanely great products” is what it should be all about.

Innovation should in fact be quite simple – just build intensely authentic brands that bring consumers real value. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.