Don't Brand Your Innovation Program

by Drew Boyd

Don't Brand Your Innovation ProgramCompanies should avoid the temptation to brand their innovation program. While it seems like a great way to bring excitement and focus to innovation, branding these programs does just the opposite. Employees become cynical, they wait it out, and they go right back to doing what they were doing before.

I liken this advice to that from Edwards Deming on quality. His 14 Key Principles are legendary in the quality movement worldwide. Principle Number 10 says:

“Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.”

In other words, don’t cheer people on to do something they already do or, worse, don’t know how to do. For example, don’t place huge banners in the cafeteria or on the employee website about the importance of quality. That’s because…they already know it! It annoys employees when the company condescends.

The same is true with innovation. Branding your corporate innovation with hyperbole and slogans only defeats the purpose. But there are some who would argue the merits of branding. It signals leadership support, and it creates enthusiasm. GE’s “Ecomagination” for example, makes a clear statement about the company’s emphasis.

What to do? A recent study on the effects of time pressure on innovation outcome might lend some insight. Michael Hsu and Hsueh-Liang Fan demonstrated that putting time pressure to innovate in a company that already has a high organizational innovation climate actually hurts performance. In other words, cracking the whip on employees who already perform well makes them perform worse. On the other hand, creative outcomes will be enhanced by putting time pressure in companies with a poor innovation culture.

Perhaps the same could be said for branding your innovation program:

  • In corporate cultures where the innovation climate is strong and well supported, branding the innovation does absolutely no good. It may signal that something is wrong, or the leadership just doesn’t get it.
  • In corporate cultures where the innovation climate is weak or non-existent, branding the innovation program may give a short term burst of energy and results. ‘Might as well try it…nothing else seems to work.

If you insist on bringing high visibility to your innovation program, don’t brand the entire program. Rather, brand the innovation training program. Signal to your employees that you are serious about giving them the skills that matter most – the ability to create new and useful innovations across the entire enterprise. THAT is worth bringing attention to.


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Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at www.innovationinpractice.com and at https://twitter.com/drewboyd

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  1. Drew: Right on! Love this piece. Bullseye! I see this all the time.

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