Like most great CEOs, Mark Parker sought the counsel of some wise mentors when he first took the helm at Nike. One of those mentors happened to be Steve Jobs, who shared the following piece of advice: "Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff."

The problem with focusing on the "good stuff" is that most of that stuff isn't shiny or new anymore. For your top talent, whether they are marketers, designers, or innovators, working on version 4.0 of a tired franchise is the equivalent to being assigned corporate latrine duty.

Yet, that's exactly what the best companies in the world do. Instead of chasing the new, they innovate the old. They take all of their shiny new ideas and apply them against existing products and services that already have tremendous market momentum and consumer goodwill, with the goal of making them even more iconic.

Innovating your existing products and services leverages your existing staff, structures, processes, manufacturing facilities, distribution channels, retail outlets, and customer base in a way that "radical" new innovation never can. It's a smart use of resources and energy; it leads to increased gross margins; and it has a far higher chance of success. It's also simpler to do, and you'll start seeing results faster.

But the most important reason to innovate the old is to protect your iconic status, the highest and most profitable form of branding.

There is plenty of evidence that iconic status leads to greater customer loyalty, greater demand, and stronger testimonials. Research from WPP, one of the world's biggest advertising agency groups, has determined that people find it far easier to remember iconic brands. Its studies have revealed that iconic brands have over 60% better top-of-mind awareness than non-iconic brands. That's because iconic brands connect more deeply with their audiences.

Four Lessons from Nike's Air Max

As a classically trained designer, Mark Parker fully understood the value of iconic design and was able to apply this thinking against one of the most successful franchises in the Nike portfolio, the Air Max.

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Soon Yu is the author of Iconic Advantage: Don't Chase the New, Innovate the Old, an international speaker on innovation and design, and an adjunct professor at Parsons School of Design.

Twitter: @SoonSpeaks

LinkedIn: Soon Yu