Nearly every company wants to describe themselves as innovative. In a perfect world, each brand would have a unique offering that doesn't simply improve the landscape for their industry, but rather revolutionizes it.  Unfortunately, if a company is going to refer to itself as innovative, it requires asking why internally before the media does. Innovation isn't simply improving upon an existing product or service; it's a complete shift in the benefit to the end user. When a brand doesn't live up to its promise of innovation, the results can have the opposite effect of the intent in using the word.

Innovation leads to heightened expectations. It's a word that makes people pay attention and look closely at a company. However, the oversaturation of the word, permeating nearly every industry, has diluted what it truly means. Innovation now represents less of a disruption than a crutch or buzzword. If your company is going to be innovative, it requires a systematic approach to identifying and capitalizing on the waves that culminate with innovation.

The first wave is understanding an unmet need for your audience.  Does your software address a gap that will dramatically enhance the end user's ability to provide added value to clients? Is your business model built on completely changing the way other firms in your industry operate? If the answer is no, that doesn't necessarily mean that innovation is a lost cause.  But it requires a deeper investigation into what your competitors are doing and how you can vastly improve upon it.

The second wave can either be addressing the need or creating an entirely new need for your audience. Innovation can be simple as long as you create something that did not previously exist. Take Apple as an example. In a textbook example of need creation, Apple convinced people to buy products they didn't even realize they wanted. For many, portable cassette and CD players were just fine, but the introduction of the iPod created a seismic shift in how consumers purchased and experienced music. Apple's approach brought them back from the verge of irrelevance and signaled the death knell for other companies that did not adapt to this new demand among consumers.

The final wave is communicating your value. However, you also need to understand that your audiences - whether media, investors, advisors or potential partners - are savvy enough to call your bluff if your claim to innovation is unfounded. Strategic messaging cannot be done in a silo.  Collaboration between all parties, marketing, corporate communications, IT, PR and the C-suite, is crucial for messaging to be developed and disseminated. 

Before it can be rolled out to a wider audience, communicate your value internally.  Every employee is a brand ambassador for their organization, and never underestimate the power of their social influence. When employees believe in what they do or sell, they will be more likely to communicate it.

Innovation is about bringing a completely new experience to the end user. It requires you to look at not just what your company is doing, but your competitors as well. Too often companies fall into the trap of labeling their brand as innovative, without looking at the process involved in achieving it.  The word itself has been corrupted by companies who fail to support the claim, thus diluting its significance.  We live in a "show, don't tell" world, when the proof lies in the company's actions.  Understanding the waves that lead to innovation is the sure path to creating waves of your own.