The annual release of the Fast Company’s “The World’s Most Innovative Companies” never fails to inspire. No matter your business or your role within it, these companies are looking at the world differently than the rest of us.

So who most inspired my marketing mind this year? Here’s my short list (in completely non-numerical order):

  • #6 AirBNB – I have to admit I had not heard of this company until they made last year’s list. This online vacation booking site connects private parties with space to rent and travelers looking for off-the-beaten-path vacation digs. What I love is that they changed the typical star rating system to hearts because,  “A star can’t capture the magic of staying in a castle or the whimsy of staying a  tree house,” said CEO, Brian Chesky. This attention to detail is driving enormous success. By this summer AirBNB is expected to surpass the InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton Worldwide as the largest hotel chain—all without owning a single hotel. Everything matters.
  • #36 Flipboard – Easily my favorite news app—it’s so pretty on an iPad—I’m excited to see it on the list this year. If you haven’t tried it, download it immediately (it’s free). You can view whatever news you like in a magazine-style, intuitive layout. And, now that Flipboard has acquired rival, Zite, they will be incorporating the Pandora-music-like news recommendation feature that made Zite a favorite. Match made in heaven. But enough about the product, Flipboard also made my list because they are doing some great partner marketing. Rather than praying for future advertising dollars a la Twitter and Facebook, Flipboard has teamed up with brick-and-mortar giants like Condé Nast and Time, Inc. in revenue-sharing agreements that allow greater exposure for all involved and ensure the lights will stay on at Flipboard for years to come.
  • #4 Dropbox – This tool is a marketing winner simply for making the lives of marketers easier. We work with BIG files, often remotely with agencies and vendors—videos, design files and images that are tens of megabytes. When Dropbox came along it meant no more messing with ftp passwords and Basecamp logins. It just works. Hallelujah.
  • #11 Dodge – The open-minded marketing team at Dodge hit a home run when Will Ferrell and team came to them to propose cross-marketing with upcoming movie, Anchorman 2. In character as the brash Ron Burgundy. Ferrell made disparaging jokes about the cars in ads and on talk shows, and the result? 15% increase in sales last year, with the Durango’s sales up 59%. Nice work, Dodge.
  • #1  Google – This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the behemoth in the number one spot. It’s actually hard to pinpoint just one area that Google is dominating because they are innovating in so many ways. But this is my favorite thing about Google. They have never been just a search engine company. Like their name implies, the sky is the limit. They are a technology company bent on changing the world in as many ways as can be thought of—and they are thinking all the time.

What are you not thinking about? Are you too entrenched in your identity and category? What could you be reaching for that you’re not? I love this list each year because it makes me think big picture and get out of the day-to-day. It also makes me feel a little guilty that I’m not out there inventing the next big thing (yet).

For a little extra fodder on how to create a more innovative culture in your business—this Fast Company (it’s a theme for this post) article provides some great starting points and advice: Six Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation. Happy innovating!

[Photo by masondan via Flickr Commons]