Creating Iconic Advantage: Soon Yu Talks Innovation at VF Corp, Changes in Retail

Creating an iconic brand — like Apple, BMW, or Nike — requires more than great design and technological breakthroughs. According to Soon Yu, the former Global VP of Innovation at VF Corporation, when something is iconic, it has three simple qualities: Distinction, relevance, and universal recognition.

“There are a lot of great companies that have learned how to harness this idea of what I call iconic advantage,” says Yu. “It’s not that they don’t innovate the new. They do. They do chase some shiny objects, but they double down on where they’re already strong, where they’re already making money — on the franchises that oftentimes in businesses people tend to neglect.”

At VF Corp., the publicly-held company that owns brands like North Face, Vans, Timberland, and JanSport, Yu was involved with bringing new innovation practices to the company and helping strengthen the organization’s innovation processes and culture.

On a recent Innovation Leader Live call, Yu discussed some of the innovation lessons he learned while working at the company, including how to avoid doing too much at first, separating the long-term from the short-term, finding the right champions, and more. He also touches on some of the trends he’s seeing in retail, including the benefits and downsides of hosting your own e-commerce website versus selling on Amazon.

An edited transcript of the call is below. You can also click play to hear the complete audio, or the “down arrow” to download an MP3 file for later listening.

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