Initiator’s Tips for Success: Innovate Better Today in Order to Win Tomorrow

Over the past year, you’ve likely heard many sources exhorting you to continue innovating, even in times of chaos like we’re experiencing now. However, the reality is that many companies had to go into survival mode, which meant putting most innovation initiatives on hold. 

Nevertheless, the pandemic has presented new macro- and mega-trends, while accelerating and shifting many others.  Many of these changes will remain with us long after we move on with our lives when the pandemic is behind us. Smart companies will recognize them as opportunities.

In addition, with many of the pandemic challenges subsiding, you may now be ready to take advantage of them so your brand or company can thrive again. If so, you’re not alone.  More important, those that do this ahead of their competitors will undoubtedly be tomorrow’s winners.

With this in mind, here are five practical tips for how you can successfully rev up innovation at your company.

1. START YESTERDAY!  If you didn’t, no problem.  Start today.

  • Being First Wins Most Often – Numerous cases show it’s best to be first.  In all likelihood your competition is looking at the same opportunity areas, so you need to launch ideas before they do.
  • Playing Catchup Keeps You Behind – Speaking from experience scrambling to launch “me-too” offerings rarely achieves the same success as the 1st mover, while diverting resources and delaying pursuit of more innovative ideas.
  • Great Innovation is Iterative –The best and biggest ideas usually come out of multiple rounds of rethinking and reworking.  Starting now means having more time to maximize and optimize innovation potential.

2. FastForward the Past. Yep, look backward, but think forward.

Start by digging through past ideas.  However, instead of simply trying to revive them, we suggest thinking about how to modify or totally rethink the need they’re addressing so they’re relevant for tomorrow’s market.

This is always a good place to begin, but even more true given the monumental shifts and unexpected behavior modifications that have taken place over the past year.  As you review, ask yourself how should the consumer insight and need be adjusted or completely redefined to reflect these changes?  

By looking at history this way, you may uncover both new and bigger opportunity areas you hadn’t thought about before.

3. Extrapolate to the Future.  Permit yourself to think of new possibilities.

Begin by taking off your category blinders, look at what’s going on from a broader perspective, and then bring that back into a category context.  Understand where things are now, but allow yourself the freedom and put the emphasis on thinking about where things are likely going.

Some questions to ask yourself: 

  • What trends are on their way out?
  • Which are accelerating? 
  • How are continuing trends evolving?
  • What new trends appear to be emerging?
  • What trends might be on the horizon?

Importantly, how could you use the answers to reshape your category?

  • What consumer behaviors and resulting needs do they suggest? 
  • Which of those are likely to stick, and possibly grow?
  • What new category needs might arise as we move into the “new normal”?

This approach will likely suggest some additional opportunity areas.

4. Zero in on a Few Prime Focus Areas.  

Now that you’ve spotted some possible opportunities by perusing the past and peering into the future, it’s time to start narrowing down the focus to the few areas that could have the highest potential for brand or company.

Start by creating a set of criteria that helps you select just two to three high priority areas. Taking on more tends to be overwhelming and dilutes creativity.  Based on experience, greater focus actually leads to better ideas.

5. Create the Aha! Need Angles.  Meaningfully differentiate and win.

This is the perhaps most challenging step, but when done right, it’s the one that leads to the best business-building ideas.  The previous steps will help identify broad focus areas and ensure you’re going after bigger opportunities.  However, they lack the specificity needed to help you create meaningful, differentiated product ideas.

At this point, you need to forge some specific, unique and “ownable” need angles against these opportunity areas.  This will help you generate differentiated and defensible ideas—ones that stand strongly apart from all others, can’t be easily adopted by competitors, and importantly, have the “grippiness” that immediately grabs consumers’ attention and completely convinces them that they should only consider your product and no one else’s. 

Based on experience, the key to consistently generating these kinds of need angles is bringing new thinking to your category or industry, and the best way to do that is to look outside.  

However, merely exploring adjacent categories (e.g., looking into hair care to lead thinking around skin care), or the same topic in other categories (seeking inspiration from air fresheners to spark a new notion for cat litter odor control) usually doesn’t work well enough.  That’s because the ideas generated tend to be too similar to what’s currently offered, or will soon be introduced by your competitors because they looked in the same places. 

To Win Take the Analogous Road

If you want to generate truly powerful, differentiating need angles, you can’t simply dip your toes just outside your category – you need to leap out and explore inspiration much, much farther away.  One approach that consistently works is to generate new thinking by exploring inspiration in analogously connected areas. 


Here’s an example of how analogous inspiration was used to create successful innovation for a beverage brand.

The Situation:

The brand wanted to offer “Morning Energy” products, but there were already a plethora of other beverages delivering on this broad need.

The Analogous Inspiration:  

Exploration of a wide and diverse range of analogously connected sources related to “energy” led us to batteries, fuel boosters, Tai Chi and more.

While looking into Tai Chi, we learned that one of the things this form of exercise helps with is to get the body’s own chi, or life energy, flowing smoothly and powerfully throughout the body. 

This suggested the need for getting your own natural energy going, rather than using stimulants.  This was the “a-ha” moment that provided a completely new way of thinking about the need for energy.

The New Need Angle:

We then adapted this idea by creating an insight platform around the need for helping the body release its own natural energy as a way to get your energy going in the morning.  This was a totally unique, compelling way to deliver energy for the target consumer, and one that was ownable by this particular brand.


This ultimately led to a line of new beverages that grew the entire brand by 20%+ every year over a 3-year period. 

In summary:

  1. Start Now – get ahead of the competition. Be first.
  2. FastForward the Past – rethink past ideas with tomorrow in mind
  3. Extrapolate to the Future – understand present trends to hypothesize possibilities
  4. Choose Focus Areas – zero in on just a few priority directions
  5. Create Aha! Need Angles – create “grippiness” by exploring analogous inspiration

And make sure you have some fun along the way.  Happy Innovating!

We’re here to help:

We’d welcome the opportunity to discuss how to develop winning innovation for your brands or business. In addition, Initiator is now offering virtual half-day New Need Angle Generation workshops. They’re a fast, efficient, and effective way to kickstart innovation by generating powerful, differentiated consumer need possibilities.

Mac Renfro & Rick Seibold

About Initiator:  

Initiator is an early-stage innovation firm specializing in creating passionately-preferred ideas that truly excite consumers.   

Our work has received numerous honors including Nielsen’s Breakthrough Innovations award, IRI’s Pacesetters award, and Better Homes & Garden’s Best New Products award.

Learn more about Initiator at our website: