David Aaker is my branding hero. I’ve read a number of his books, follow his contributions to Marketing News and frequently download his white papers. I recently reread three of his articles that were each written a year apart and focus on the role of innovation and its importance in today’s marketing world. I don’t think the articles were meant to be read as a series but I was intrigued how accurately they each built off one another.

The first, published in October, 2010, discussed the silo crisis in many of today’s companies, both large and small. “Organizational silos are creating waste and inefficiency and, worse, are leading to lost opportunities to develop great products and marketing programs.” We are all familiar with organizations that have this silo issue and it’s their management’s responsibility to “replace competition and isolation with cooperation and communication.” Silos destroy any sense of innovation because they foster an environment of protected territories.

The second article was published in February, 2011 and focuses on the pros and cons between a preference brand strategy and a relevance brand strategy. Aaker contends that a preference strategy, competing in an arena of products with similar features and benefits, is a recipe for “stressed margins, unsatisfactory profitability and, ultimately, a decline in irrelevance.” On the other hand, a relevance brand strategy is based on creating new product categories, either perceptually or physically. This relies on transformational innovation and has a payoff of little or no competition.

Lastly, from the May 31, 2012 issue of Marketing News, Aaker tackles the topic of why innovation initiatives sometimes never see the light of day. As we’ve all experienced, it’s easier to kill a project than to risk approving one that may not succeed. Aaker provides four suggestions for overcoming this gloomy-picture, innovation-averse thinking:

  1. Base decisions on data and analysis that have depth and credibility.
  2. Look at innovation projects in terms of a portfolio which have a spectrum of risk.
  3. Protect those in your organization you deem innovators.
  4. Be willing to face risk because it could be a turning point in achieving something strategically important.

As humans, we’re programmed to avoid risk. However, it’s been proven over and over that the key for sustained future growth is constant and controlled innovation in all parts of our businesses. It’s time we all strive to get out of our comfort zones and be open to new and fresh ideas.