Adidas recently introduced their “Energy Boost” running shoe, a $150 piece of innovation that the company hopes will help them catch up to other brands that currently lead in the athletic shoe category.

The shoe – which was 3 years in development – by the Adidas Innovation Team in partnership with the chemical company BASF, has a cushioning in the sole created with compressed capsules – a kind of athletic shoe Styrofoam – that will have a different, more-appealing feel for runners. According to Adidas, it was designed, “to help you run longer and more comfortably.” And I always thought the “longer” part came from training.

Anyway, it used to be that for more casual runners looks and fit were the two most-important brand engagement drivers. But times have changed and now – along with brand (and what it actually stands for beyond “running shoes”) – emotional engagement in the category is best engendered via innovation. But saying it and doing it, and doing it believably are three vastly different things. You need your target audience to believe you can do it. And to that end, we turned to this year’s Customer Loyalty Engagement index to see how consumers rated athletic shoe brands specifically on innovation. Here’s what we found:

Nike 96%
Skechers  93%
New Balance 90%
Adidas 87%
Reebok 86%
Asics 85%

Adidas is the world’s second largest sporting goods company. Nike is number 1, but Adidas hopes their innovative shoe will not only boost sales but will also help the brand reinforce its reputation as an innovator. There’s certainly some room for them to catch up.

It was Steve Jobs who noted that “innovation is the difference between a leader and a follower,” which, as it turns out, is probably a more important notion if you’re a manufacturer of running shoes!