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The 14 Non-Tech Brands Millennials & Gen Z Think Are Most Innovative (Part 2)

To look at innovation beyond tech, we asked 1000 13-34-year-olds the non-tech brand they think is most innovative…

When we asked 1000 13-34-year-olds about the brands they think are particularly innovative, it was not too surprising that most of the 17 brands that received the most mentions were technology companies. After all, 86% of 13-34-year-olds think that brands that experiment with new technologies are innovative/extremely innovative, and 83% say they like when brands experiment with new technologies, even if they aren’t perfect yet. In their minds, technology and innovation are inexorably linked. But just because tech is the first thing that springs to mind when they are asked about innovation doesn’t mean they don’t think that non-tech brands are innovative as well. Almost 70% say that brands that change the way that a product is sold/delivered is innovative/extremely innovative, 68% say that brands that use recyclable/sustainable packaging is innovative/extremely innovative, and 62% say those that offer personalized products are innovative/extremely innovative.

To dig even further beyond their instinctive connection between innovation and tech, we also asked those 1000 13-34-year-olds, “Think of a non-tech brand you think is particularly innovative. What is the brand?”* Here are the 15 most mentioned: 

*These were open-end response questions to allow us to capture the full range of the non-tech brands 13-34-year-olds think are most innovative. As with any qualitative question, the responses include those that are top of mind and those that are most highly thought of. The lists are ordered according to number of responses received, and alphabetically when ties occurred. 

What Non-Tech Brands Do They Think Are Most Innovative?


  1. Nike

  2. Adidas

  3. Coca-Cola

  4. Amazon

  5. Forever 21

  6. McDonald’s

  7. Under Armour

  8. Target

  9. IKEA

  10. Starbucks

  11. Ford

  12. H&M

  13. MAC Cosmetics

  14. Tesla

They made the overall innovation ranking as well, but once technology was taken out of the picture, Nike jumped to the top of the list. But interestingly, the reasons that young consumers named the brand were similar to the reasons they see Apple or Samsung as innovative: newness and constant improvement. One 13-year-old male said he chose the brand because they’re “always coming up with new shoes that are different,” while a female 22-year-old told us Nike is “always coming up with new products, expanding their brand once they became popular to have something for everyone.” A 29-year-old male explained, “[Nike is] constantly trying to improve on designs to enhance comfort and performance.”

While Nike received the most mentions by far, those who named Adidas had similar themes to their reasoning. One 28-year-old female said of the brand, “they’re constantly coming up with new…fabrics to improve sports performance,” and a 21-year-old male said, “[Adidas] is always doing things that are new, cutting edge and forward thinking.”

While Nike and Adidas were the top two brands among males, females, Gen Z, and Millennials, we did see some differences between these group rankings:

Males were more likely than females to mention McDonald’s and Tesla as innovative non-tech brands, while females were more likely than males to mention Forever 21 and Amazon, indicating that females are more likely to notice innovations in retail. Meanwhile, teens were more likely than Millennials to name Forever 21 and American Eagle, while Millennials were more likely to name Amazon and Starbucks. These differences could very much be life stage related, as teens aren’t as likely to have the means to shop online, or to have developed as much of an interest in coffee culture. 

To download the PDF version of this insight article, click here.