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How Can Companies Truly Demonstrate Innovation? Lessons Learned From APCO’s Research Studies

May 20, 2022

We are saturated everyday with stories of corporate innovation. Lists upon lists of companies deemed the most innovative of that year. While some companies are synonymous with innovation–lending them an advantage in their storytelling–most companies struggle to stand out in the crowd. So, how do you truly demonstrate innovation in way that is different and better from others?

As the team dedicated to uncovering what drives our client’s corporate reputations, recent trends from our research reveal new lessons for corporate communicators.

  1. Share your thinking: Demonstrating innovation starts with having innovative thinking. Our research shows that companies that are considered innovative are putting their thinking on display. These companies are not only talking about their innovation outputs (new products and services), but their innovation inputs–the unique approaches taking place within a company to spur innovation. When mining for content, the process of innovating at your company could be a compelling story to tell.
  2. Highlight your innovation collaborations: The development of several of the COVID-19 vaccines through partnerships exposed consumers to the benefits of collaboration. We find that in our reputation studies, looking outward for sources of innovation isn’t a weakness–it’s a strength. From an external stakeholder perspective, organizations working with others to solve a problem is an opportunity to highlight.
  3. Talk about the big and the small: Large, industry-changing discoveries are typically the focus when companies communicate about their new innovations, however, some of our recent research has uncovered reputational benefits of highlighting the smaller-scale efforts. Whether it’s a small refinement on the manufacturing line that saves time or the implementation of an analytical tool the benefits the end-user, these smaller, more incremental innovations become further proof points of the company’s widespread commitment to innovation.
  4. Innovation with a purpose: When looking at the lists of the world’s most innovative companies, many of the top ranked companies are pushing the bounds of innovation beyond commercial needs for new products and services – they are innovating to create a larger societal change. Our research shows that companies that are perceived as highly innovative are telling the story of how their innovation fills the gap on a societal need.

These trends in demonstrating innovation lead us to believe that stakeholder expectations in this arena are higher than ever. It is no longer enough to brand yourself as an innovative company without clear proof points. Stakeholders are now looking for companies to provide a line of sight into their innovation process as well as more frequent communications on innovation outputs, beyond new product launches.

Furthermore, storytelling is an essential element to building a reputation as an innovative company. But, before building content, it’s critical to understand what your company needs to do to demonstrate innovation in the eyes of your most important stakeholders. Companies that take the time to understand what it means to be innovative through the lens of unique stakeholder expectations have a greater chance to break through the noise and standout as an innovator.

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