Restoring Innovation To A Leading Brand

Today’s consumer-facing companies find themselves in a do-or-die race for innovation and creativity within the customer-experience ecosystem. Clearly, there is a massive convergence happening between consumer devices in the office, at home, and in the car.


Today’s consumer-facing companies find themselves in a do-or-die race for innovation and creativity within the customer-experience ecosystem. Clearly, there is a massive convergence happening between consumer devices in the office, at home, and in the car. Consumers no longer view their living room, workplace, and personal devices as separate domains. As devices become more portable and content is increasingly digital, connectivity is fast becoming a fundamental expectation and lifestyle requirement.


With every new social network, smartphone feature, and digital diversion, innovation-driven consumer companies must constantly redefine their categories and in some cases, redefine themselves to ensure they remain both relevant and differentiated in the minds of consumers. For classic brands with generations of leadership, there is the added challenge of remaining current among a contemporary audience without alienating your core loyalists. To revive a once-dominant brand–without losing the very essence that contributed to the brand’s greatness–executive managers need to take a disciplined and decisive approach while also tapping into the company’s core strengths. The following outlines eight basic steps:

  1. Strengthen the Financial Core: Oftentimes, successful brands can lose discipline or become complacent over time, applying less rigor to the cost control and returns on investment. Before you can begin reestablishing a brand’s dominance, you need to have a solid financial foundation that provides the resources and flexibility to invest and seize opportunities for growth.
  2. Restore the Culture of Innovation: All leading brands started with and still possess the DNA of innovation and creativity, but it is often limited to one or two areas such as design or engineering. For a company to prosper, it must inject this innovative spirit into every aspect of the business. In other words, managers across the organization need to become independent innovators in marketing, strategy, finance, technology, research etc.
  3. Assess the Landscape: Dominant brands can at times become a victim of their own success and develop “tunnel vision” that misses potential market opportunities including new demographics, geographies or technologies. Management must take a fresh and objective look at the landscape and determine where best to focus its energies.
  4. Listen to the Market: Leading brands not only hold the position of category-killer at times, they are often the “category creator.” Having been the one to develop a whole new business or consumer offering, these same leaders can forget that at some point, the consumer takes over and will dictate the wants, needs and wishes for that product and if the category leader does not respond, someone else will. Reviving an iconic brand requires disposing of prior assumptions and going out to the source and hearing directly from the marketplace what they want and need and what will drive sales of their products.
  5. Align the Organization: Organizational realignment may be necessary to ensure the right people, investments and resources are supporting the businesses and that the proper structure, processes and policies are in place to drive growth. Sometimes organizations need to be completely rebuilt to grow businesses, while shrinking others that no longer make sense.
  6. Renew Focus: The corporate vision should be invigorating yet also practical and sensible to mean something to employees, particularly long-standing ones. Employees across the ranks need to be provided with focus, discipline and incentives in order to be held accountable for idea generation, growth and success.
  7. Communicate in Words and Actions: The goals and vision need to be communicated both through words and changes in leadership and organizational structure. Moreover, the messages need to be consistent and reinforced with ongoing employee engagement and regular updates on progress.
  8. Incentivize in Ways that Count: If you are after driving deep lasting change at the heart of the organization, you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. But, incentives are not just about hard cash. For instance, providing stock options for rank and file employees demonstrates how serious you are about generating results from top down to the bottom. For the rising star, a truly ground-breaking company is also a rich workplace environment for career development opportunities. And if you call yourself a global company, then an employee in China should enjoy similar incentives as a peer at headquarters–otherwise you’re just a domestic company with an office in China.

For many companies, the global economy is applying tremendous pressure, meaning change is not an option, but a strategic imperative. Classic brands in particular need to capitalize on significant and social and market trends while remaining true to their organizational spirit and core customer promise. After all, breakaway brands have a tendency to reinvent themselves repeatedly throughout history to stay relevant, using heritage as one of their greatest assets.

Dinesh Paliwal is the Chairman, President, and CEO of Harman International (NYSE: HAR).