Innovation is one of those concepts that can be hard to define, but easy to recognize. We typically think about innovation in the context of design or R&D – the latest consumer electronics breakthrough or the newest medical marvel with the potential to save lives, for example.  What may be less obviously apparent is the increasingly intertwined connection between innovation and communications.

Innovation within companies is largely driven by business needs, and with communications proving, more than ever before, to be a key component of strategic business decisions, we are seeing the function both drive innovation and heighten its impact. At PepsiCo, we have seen numerous examples of communications serving as the guiding force behind some of our most innovative initiatives.

One of the core attributes of our Mountain Dew brand, for example, is the highly participatory relationship it has with its devoted fans. In 2009, the brand launched its second DEWmocracy campaign and invited consumers to take part in the product development process. Three teams of consumers banded together to make  decisions on flavor, color, name, package design and advertising, and created three new limited-time flavors, one of which, Mtn Dew White Out, is now a permanent part of the product line following a public vote. In this case, an initiative that had consumer communications at its core not only achieved its goal of more intimately connecting with its audience, but it also resulted in a refresh of the brand’s product line.

Digital technology and social media represent a clear business opportunity for any company, but for a large global corporation like PepsiCo, it is especially critical. Understanding the potential that digital technology has to help grow our business, in 2010, we developed the PepsiCo10 program, which selected 10 U.S. start-ups to participate in an incubator program, working with our brands. The program, which has since been replicated in the U.K., allows PepsiCo to be on the ground floor of technologies that have the capacity to change the way we communicate with consumers. Again, this digital R&D pipeline has its foundation in communications.

Of course, an innovation is only as impactful in the marketplace as its potential users perceive it to be. That is where communications plays an important role in illuminating the transformative qualities of a product or concept. Apple has been one of the great success stories of the last decade in large part because it has positioned its products as reinventions of staples that everyone already uses. The iPhone as the reinvention of the phone; the iPad as the reinvention of the computer. That way, their products appeal to all, not just the early adapter/enthusiast set. Communications has taken Apple’s products from technologically advanced to truly innovative.

All companies strive to produce innovative ideas, products and practices. To really change one’s industry though, communications needs to be involved at every stage of the process – from ideation to development to execution. The companies that take this principle to heart become the leaders that others turn to for inspiration.