What’s the best means to build a long-lasting, valuable brand bolstered by a strong global reputation? Marketing and communications professionals, searching for any concrete strategy or tactic to move the needle, might channel Malcolm X and say, “By any means necessary!”

CSR has been the answer for decades, but new research shows the power of another potent tool that not only burnishes reputation and drives business performance: innovation.

Most companies devote significant resources to being innovative. Few outside of technology devote proportional amounts of PR resource to talking about those innovations.

A notable exception is Ford. Ford’s focus on innovation has put its reputation ahead of other American car companies according to the Global Corporate Reputation Index, which measured corporate citizenship and performance across 6,000 companies. The Index, based on 40,000 consumer interviews across six countries shows that in the United States, Ford is ahead of General Motors on innovation by 31 points. It is ahead of Chrysler by 23 points. On a similar metric—vision—Ford leads GM and Chrysler by 21 and 28 points, respectively.

The Global Corporate Reputation Index also reveals a strong correlation between innovation and overall reputation. Companies in the top half of the global index on average score a full 15 points higher on Innovation than the companies in the bottom half.

It’s obvious that innovation and reputation would be highly correlated in the technology industry. The other lesson here is that nearly every industry can claim its own innovation halo. Who doesn’t want a performance glow?

In fact, industries like personal care and food & beverage may be getting held back by their perceived lack of innovation despite numerous strengths in other areas. Globally, the food & beverage industry trails the average of the other industries by 12 points on both innovation and vision. Similarly, the personal care industry trails by 16 points on vision. These competitive weaknesses ultimately hinder the reputations of companies in these industries.

The future of communicating about corporate reputation in every industry now requires a focus on innovation. Companies that demonstrate high levels of both innovation and citizenship can really soar.

Lisa Poulson is chair of the tech practice at Burson-Marsteller.