Most Innovative Tech Brands 2016

Unlocking Consumer Value

An annual survey of consumer perceptions of innovative tech brands has found expectations for innovation have skyrocketed 33 percent in only one year. The survey, conducted by a brand loyalty and emotional engagement research consultancy, also found 30 percent of the top 20 brands are new to the 2016 list—but big names in innovation, including past and present International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) winners, still make their mark. And you may be surprised what consumers see as being “innovative” these days.

This year, 4,000 consumers were asked to name companies and brands that they feel are leaders in technological innovation. These are the results (the numbers in parentheses indicate movement up or down the list from last year; names in bold indicate new consumer mentions for 2016):

  1. Google (+1)
  2. Amazon (+2)
  3. Facebook (+4)
  4. Apple (-3)
  5. Samsung (-2)
  6. Netflix (--)
  7. HBO (-2)
  8. YouTube (+1)
  9. Airbnb
  10. IBM (+2)
  11. Snapchat
  12. Line (+8)
  13. Shutterfly
  14. BuzzFeed
  15. ClassPass (no-contract, plan-customizable, fitness company)
  16. Intel (+3)
  17. theSkimm (email-based news delivery service)
  18. Microsoft (-7)
  19. SoundCloud (-11)
  20. Tesla (-3)

“The consumer’s expectation for constant innovation and the expansion of technological innovation accounts for the addition of six new brands to the 2016 list,” says Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president. “Each new brand stands for something that advances the category in which they compete and adds real value for consumers.”

The biggest movement up the list was seen for Line, the app for instant communication on electronic devices; and for Facebook. Companies that moved down the innovation list included SoundCloud, the online audio distribution platform, and Microsoft.

It’s also clear that what consumers consider “innovation” takes a variety of forms. “Creativity” like HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is seen as an innovation. New forms of social outreach and connectivity also are seen as innovative these days.

There were also brands and tech companies that weren’t mentioned by enough consumers to make 2016’s top 20 list. “With such high consumer expectations,” notes Passikoff, “companies like Uber—that once were considered innovative—spawned enough ‘me-to’ competitors to make them seem less innovative. Or companies that have been around for a while, like LinkedIn, have come to feel conventional, and that erodes the perception of innovation.”

“It’s clear that consumer attitudes toward innovation have changed dramatically,” says Passikoff. “Consumers have come to see innovation and change as an opportunity—not a threat, and clearly something they expect in the brands they want to engage with.”

From a marketing perspective, he adds, innovation is change that increases emotional engagement and unlocks consumer value, so it’s something brands must focus on. The changes on the 2016 Brand Keys Innovation list are proving that the brand-innovation half-life is shrinking rapidly. "It's hard to conceive that there was a time when consumers feared technological innovation," says Passikoff. "They equated innovation and technology with a greater likelihood of something to go wrong. The 21st century may not yet have delivered flying cars—although we have seen prototypes—but it is clearly meeting its potential in terms of providing products and services that better meet consumers' tech innovation expectations."