According to Merriam-Webster Online, the definition of innovation is “the introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device: NOVELTY.”
“Innovation” is now also the catchword that resonates on the eardrums of PR professionals and businesspeople who feel capturing it will allow them to rise above the fray of a cramped marketplace and find success (however you choose to define that).
Waggener Edstrom recently released the first set of results for a series of studies that it has in the works to research innovation. The Innovation Image Study (IIS) found a correlation between stock price and the use of emotional rather than rational innovation keywords. So, companies whose media coverage included words like “breakthrough,” “trendy,” and “cool” showed higher stock prices than companies whose descriptors were “R&D,” “intellectual property,” and “engineer.” Cisco, Yahoo, and Sprint came up on the low end, while Google and Apple (surprise, surprise) were on the high end.
“This shows that companies have to convince a skeptical editor to use these words to describe them,” says Marianne Allison, chief innovation officer at WE. “The way we’re communicating this to our clients is part of your corporate narrative needs to be about innovation.”
Frankly, I wondered if there was a bit of innovation-washing going on here. Businesses succeed because they find new, useful ways to fill a gap in the market, necessity being the mother of invention and all. Praise has been heaped upon Apple and Google for their forward-thinking products and conduct of business. And, yes, they are trendy and cool (although the kids these days might say that being trendy is more a negative than a positive). They are innovative and talked about as such. No news there.
To gather more information, I spoke with Dan Gallagher, WE’s VP of research and discovery. He called the IIS “phase one of our fundamental proof of concept on innovation and its implication for brands and brand image.”
“When you describe a company as being visionary, you’re almost forecasting how the company is going to do in the marketplace,” says Gallagher. “The stock market is betting that the company is going to do better because you’re using these kinds of words.”
Next, they’d like to look at whether this study’s findings will hold up in Asia Pacific and EMEA and whether it applies in different sectors.
“The notion of global diversity and attracting people to work on one product is the natural set up for innovation to occur,” says Gallagher.
That I can buy. Borders have faded and the injection of ideas from all sorts of backgrounds is transforming how we live and think. And diversity is definitely an issue that the PR industry and business in general needs to be mindful of and aggressively pursue. We need to keep our eyes on this research as long as it delves deep enough and stretches wide enough to uncover new information about what innovation really means to us today and going forward.