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Innovate, not replicate

The masses don’t come up with innovative ideas, individuals do, so why do we let the opinion of others influence the outcome of our vision?

As designers, we thrive on feedback. We regularly question our original vision based on what other people think, and quite often those people are not experts in the fields we’re creating for. We’re built to please and gather opinion, but is now the era when great brands are crafted from an individual’s perspective, rather than general consensus?

I’ve often found that market research in the early stages of a project can be as dangerous as it is insightful. We’ve seen a few instances recently where a company hasn’t had the courage to proceed with their original vision due to nonsensical feedback received from arbitrary sources. This seems a great shame when that vision was born from a passion to create something unique and beneficial.

Many breakthrough brands are based on a single ideal, an individual’s passion to create an answer to a problem. These individuals haven’t done a ton of market research, they’ve simply asked themselves “What do I like?”, “What do I need?” and “How do I want this to work?” They’ve built their companies around their own desires and motivation to create something brilliant, just how they like it – and if a million others like it too, then that’s a bonus.

Too many overturn inspiration for validation far too often. There is a reason why we get that rush when we’re inspired and more often than not it’s because we’ve hit a breakthrough – why do we then doubt ourselves and search for others’ perspectives?

Creating a brand based on what people want isn’t innovating, it’s replicating. The masses don’t come up with original ideas, individuals do. Distinctive sparks of imagination are simply distinguished by mass opinions due to the fact that they are going to tell you what they think you want to hear, even if it’s an independent focus group.

Innovators don’t look to others for validation, they make something that they want themselves.

Take Steve Jobs for instance. He knew what he wanted Apple to be from the very beginning and had a relentless perseverance to build his vision. When he was fired from Apple in 1985, a board of incredibly experienced business execs took control – shortly after, Apple saw its value plummet.

With Apple’s strategic purchase of NeXT Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. Within 10 years he had masterminded the launch of the iMac, iPod, and iPhone and had changed the world of personal computing forever.

I think it’s pretty clear to say that Apple lost its direction when they fired it… and what do you know, it returned as soon as they rehired Jobs and so did their profits. Apple is now the world’s most valuable company and worth more than $800 billion – all from one man’s brave vision.

Another example is Blue Bottle Coffee founded by James Freeman. In an already massively flooded marketplace, James built a coffee shop that not only stood out but actually thrived. James has stated many times that he never really built the company based on anyone else’s opinions, but instead crafted it on what he wanted a coffee shop to be.  He doesn’t really think about what customers want – he knows that if he’d pitched the concept (fewer options, more expensive, slower delivery) to customers at the very beginning, they would have laughed and said it would never have worked. Now customers see Blue Bottle Coffee as the place for artisan coffee, worth the wait and the extra money. I guess consumers don’t know what they want until they see it, who knew!

It has been reported that Nestlé, the world’s biggest maker of packaged food, paid around $425m for its stake in Blue Bottle – just one of the deals Nestlé has made with a niche food brand to counter consumers’ negative sentiments against big brands.

The results of a company built upon an individual’s vision is often a brand that conveys a genuine passion for what it does. An expert within a niche rather than a one-stop shop or someone simply regurgitating what’s already in existence. It is common knowledge that consumers are bored with big brands and certainly do not trust them – hence why the likes of P&G, Nesté and Unilever are actively seeking to procure artisan alternatives.

If a vision is built upon passion and to solve a genuine problem, we should gather knowledge from others, yes, but there comes a point where we must trust our instincts and go for it!

Adam Arnold

Founder & Creative Director of award-winning branding agency Brandality.