In today’s economy, every brand seems to think that innovation is a major key to their success. But what does innovation look like? How can companies innovate without losing brand equity or alienating core customers?

Avani Patel offered some answers at the Curalate Summit on October 18 in New York. She’s the CEO of TrendSeeder, an NYC-based fashion-focused accelerator, who’s advised more than 500 entrepreneurs. Patel was quick to point out that innovation often goes awry, especially when companies don’t understand customer desires or the demands of the marketplace.

Patel pointed to recent three examples of innovation gone wrong:

  • Cosmopolitan magazine makes … yogurt? The rationale was that women who liked Cosmo also liked yogurt. Probably a safe assumption. But yogurt making just didn’t fit with what Cosmo was as a company — going from magazine to perishable snack was simply too big of a leap.
  • DiGiorno pizza hopped on the wrong hashtag. In 2014, DiGiorno Pizza used #WhyIStayed — a hashtag created to spread awareness about domestic abuse — for marketing purposes. Needless to say it didn’t go well. Unfortunately, Patel said, DiGiorno’s marketing personnel didn’t conduct adequate research to understand the hashtag before using it. The company quickly apologized, even writing personalized Tweets to people who were offended.
  • Google Glass gets an unwelcome reception. Google Glass was a great idea on paper, Patel said, but it wasn’t quite viable in the marketplace. That’s because people who weren’t wearing the glasses felt uncomfortable — thinking they were being filmed by Glass wearers. The creepy factor loomed large.

When innovation is done right, it can work like gangbusters. Here are some examples Patel lauded:

  • Netflix and House of Cards. Why did Netflix’s original show House of Cards succeed so brilliantly? Yes, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are terrific actors but Patel argues that Netflix dug deep to really understand their core customer. They knew what users were watching and what users enjoyed — so they made the political drama to suit their tastes.
  • BuzzFeed’s Tasty videos. BuzzFeed knows what strikes a chord across social media, and they created bite-sized food recipe videos that were perfect for the medium. Users loved that the videos were easy to follow and deliciously visual — and they showed their love by propelling Tasty to insane popularity.
  • Amazon’s Alexa AI. A smart digital innovation from Amazon, the Alexa AI inside the Echo lets you order products through Amazon Prime. The easier Alexa and Echo make it for you to obtain everyday products, the more Amazon becomes integrated in your life.

3 Easy Ways to Innovate

Patel explained that innovation can be broken down into three major categories:

1. Product innovation

  • Release different versions of your products. For a prime example of this, just look at the iPhone. Whenever a new iPhone model is announced, the world goes into a frenzy. Everyone’s curious about what new features they can expect, and they want to see how Apple is driving technology forward. It should get you thinking … how can you iterate on your current products?
  • Add new categories. Jimmy Choo, one of the world’s premier fashion houses, masterfully created a new category in its product line by expanding from shoes into handbags. The extension makes perfect sense. When considering a new category, think about what dovetails with the space your brand already owns.
  • Venture into new industries. Remember when Amazon ventured outside of the retail space and created the cloud computing division Amazon Web Services? The move succeeded admirably because Amazon already knew a thing or two about cloud computing (their intricate website is one really good example).

Patel offered a strategy for strong product innovation: Think about what your users want, consider what’s possible with the technology you have, and look at what’s viable in the marketplace.

2. Marketing innovation

You might think your new product is awesome, Patel says, but you should be checking out what your data says. When you do, you’ll better understand exactly what your customers are looking for.

How do you collect information about your customers? (If you’re not sure, that’s a problem.) Through multiple touchpoints in your brand’s customer journey, you can acquire useful information about what your users think — and leverage the fact that your customers are constantly speaking to you, especially through social media.

3. Digital innovation

With astounding digital innovation in recent times — like Instagram Stories popping up overnight — you should keep your eyes peeled for technology that can enhance your brand. When a new digital tool appears, consider how it might fit with your overall strategy for interacting with customers — then pounce on it.

If you couldn’t make the Curalate Summit on October 18, don’t worry! We’ve got recaps on the Curalate blog. Check out our recaps on three essential lessons for influencer marketing, bestselling author Jonah Berger’s research on the connection between marketing and psychology, and how Pinterest became a personal shopping giant.