The statement “We want to be known as an innovator” can elicit a groan from communications professionals. My gut reaction to such a statement is typically “Well, perhaps you should do something innovative.” Of course that is not a productive answer. As painful as the task may seem, a client’s request to be known for innovation represents a golden opportunity to dig deeper into an organization’s brand and messaging.
The typical mistake is to start developing a list of organizational innovations and then to try to create a communications plan to support that hodgepodge list. Worse yet, the focus often turns to innovative ways to communicate innovation (that is, “Let’s do an innovation podcast; that will show how innovative we are!”). Instead, the place to start is to define what innovation means for the organization. That, too, can be a painful process, but you cannot build an effective and sustainable program around innovation without first defining the space. It is a lot easier to get your message through in a defined space than in a generic space.
Defining what innovation means for an organization can transform the organization. Once an organization identifies its actual or aspirational definition of innovation, the organization may need to realign parts of its business in order to encourage and measure the innovation just defined. This process will lead to changes in internal communications to drive awareness and behavior change within the organization. Eventually the external-message platform aligns with internal reality and communications is well-grounded and naturally sustainable.