Branding your innovation program

I’ve worked with clients on innovation programs for nearly a decade now, and I often look back over the successes and failures and wonder, what made the difference? There are so many factors involved: classic ones like getting the right sponsor; focusing on specific challenges, inviting the right participants; follow up and visible execution; and so on. But there is one factor, one that is often overlooked, that I think has a huge part to play:

Branding.

The best innovation programs I can recall all had robust and sincere branding. It wasn’t Idea Central the users were invited to use, it was iLevel; i2i; The IdeaFarm; Innovation Cafe; IdeaLab; Wildfire.

iLevel innovation branding

One example of corporate branding for an innovation event

Posters were made, logos were designed. Some companies made shirts and sweaters, which the most active users would wear to work. Another company made a mascot for its platform, a little robot, and they even made a film about him that went viral internally. Brilliant - there was empathy and humor to the program.

The best companies also brand their innovation team. Show me the faces of the people who will review the ideas, who will help develop them, and drive them to implementation - this is how you can reach them. Company-wide innovation is a huge scale, but make it personal.

You need engagement, and you need momentum. Branding and marketing to your users will help you get that. But most importantly you need credibility.

This won’t be the first time employees have been asked to participate in another Web 2.0 tool. It won’t be the first time they’ve been told their opinion will count, and action will be taken. If you keep springing new initiatives on them - another new fancy tool - then you lose their attention span, and the willingness to help. Sharing ideas is a deeply personal experience - abusing it and doing it wrong too many times will cost you an invisible tax: the goodwill and energy to help.

It’s not Idea Central you’re deploying, it’s the i2i (ideas2innovation) initiative, or the IdeaLab. Make it clear who is behind the initiative. If the initiative doesn’t work out, you don’t have to re-brand and lose all that goodwill you’ve earned. You take the branding and marketing with you, and the following too.

I believe it’s an essential component of doing this right. What experiences have you got in branding and marketing your innovation program?

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