6 Innovation Exercises for Brand Leadership

in Strategy & Trends | by David Capece

The world’s leading brands continually innovate. While we often think of Google and Apple as innovation juggernauts (and they are), there is innovation afoot at older brands such as Pepsi, McDonald’s, and Mercedes. In the case of Pepsi and McDonald’s who have a portfolio of products caught in the obesity storm, they’ve had to evolve from their historical platforms to avoid extinction. Pepsi has developed a social responsibility platform. McDonald’s is now the #1 buyer of apples in the US. In the case of Mercedes, a new line of lower price tag cars is their response to the dangers of their aging wealthy consumer base. In some cases, the innovations are purchased. For example, Microsoft is known for its investment and acquisition of new products and technologies.

Whether created organically or purchased, whether incremental improvements or transformational, innovation is vital in today’s rapidly evolving, competitive global economy. At Sparxoo, our team of brand & innovation strategists has led many brand innovation workshops and expert worksessions with Fortune 500 companies. Our formula: start with creativity to spark new ideas and add in strategy to structure and focus ideas across identified goals. Great ideas can come from anywhere, so tap into your leaders, your Gen Y talent, your customers, and industry experts. Connect the ideas together and draw out an innovation roadmap for the medium-term and long-term. Below, we share 6 innovation exercises to help energize your thinking.


  1. Subway Train. This exercise is a big picture competitive mapping to help you visualize the interactions among market players. Stretch your thinking about how far-reaching your platforms are, and the relationships between industry players.Pretend you are a civil engineer designing the future map for your industry with a focus on mapping out the current and potential future competitors. Like the NY Subway, create a series of 4 to 6 subway lines. Name each subway line and create specific stops on the line. Each stop represents a brand in your industry or potentially in an adjacent industry. On the map, note subway hubs where several lines intersect. Which is your brand’s location on the subway map? Where is the ideal location for your brand tomorrow?
  2. Royal Kingdom. This exercise helps you identify partners and competitors, and anticipate the moves of key market players. Get prepared for the battles that lie ahead.You are the king of a village and are expanding your kingdom. Draw a map of your surrounding terrain, noting all nearby villages. For each village, note whether the occupants are friendly (i.e. potential partners / acquisition targets) or foes (major competitors). Note the key assets contained by each village. What are the benefits and barriers to occupying each space? What are potential battles that lie ahead and how will you align your troops for success? Consider that you only have a few key moves in the next 3 to 5 years. Which villages should you focus your attention on, and Why?



  1. Causal Connection. This exercise helps connect product benefits with customer needs. This one-to-one mapping can help to make sure your innovation is on-target from the user perspective.Create 2 columns: 1) in the first column, create a list of product features and 2) in the second column, note the action you hope to accomplish for the customer. Now, prioritize the actions that you want your user to take and aggregate product ideas together that will help satisfy the customer need.
  2. Shop-Along. This exercise gets you out of the office to where your customers are: in the store. The way your customers shop in reality may be very different than the way you drew it up. Visit the stores where your consumer shops. Shop along with the consumer, tracking their movements and the types of products they’re shopping for. When they evaluate products, what are the cues they are looking for? What is the suite of products associated with selected products (i.e. when they buy a Hershey’s bar, they might also buy marshmallows and graham crackers). As an added bonus, you can use special glasses that record eye movement to see what’s grabbing the customer’s attention, what’s in their considerations set, and what they end up purchasing. Take the learnings to your product development team to consider product features and attributes.



  1. Music Mojo. This exercise helps you think through the personality of your industry, your competitors, and your organization.When you think about your industry, what mood comes to mind? Choose 5 to 8 songs from across genres and listen to them. What does each convey? What would you think about an organization / brand that reflected the song? Now map the songs to your competitors and to your brand today. Which song is inspirational for your brand tomorrow?
  2. Magazine Cover Story. This exercise helps your organization imagine what you want to become famous for. The goal is to truly stand out, so make it happen.Select the magazine for which you’d like your brand featured on the cover. Determine the topic of the cover story, then create a headline and a visual. Discuss the impact of this cover story and the steps to achieving the magazine cover.


Contact Sparxoo today to learn more about innovating your brand.