Innovation can be hard to define, but it does not need to be hard to deliver

Innovation can be hard to define, but it does not need to be hard to deliver

Innovation is an evergreen topic on marketing agendas. We all talk about it, brands demand it – but what is innovation as it relates to marketing? Lorna Wilson, Global Consultant and Head of Innovation, Blink Consulting, explains.

The problem is that no-one is quite sure what innovation is. We do not know how exactly to deliver it or who should be responsible. This lack of clarity around innovation is causing a lack of action in future readiness preparation; self-understanding and a process to deliver real change is needed.

The challenge is that innovation can be delivered in many different ways. Common outputs range from testing a new format or partner through to creating thought leadership via POVs, newsletters or running workshops. These are all useful outputs for brands and help shape innovation agendas, but they typically only showcase new trends – they lack a link to brand growth.

Without a clear link back to the business need and a route to apply this innovation to the brand, these initiatives do little to develop future readiness. More importantly, they do not help decide what initiatives to prioritise to help deliver competitive advantage over the long term.

The marketing industry’s difficulty in defining what innovation is poses a greater challenge; if we don’t know what it is, how do we know what it is missing?

The Innovation ‘Gap’

Most of us got into this industry to drive change – to learn and discover new opportunities. I believe this is what ‘we need more innovation’ means- it is saying, ‘we want more’.

By prioritising the short term, we feel like we’re missing thinking and learning outside BAU; the new and exciting things we want to tell the wider world about.

The irony is that innovative work is being done every day. Innovation may take the form of clever optimisation; partners being tested or a new solution to an old problem. Federica Cherubini, Head of Leadership Development at RISJ, puts it best when she says, “innovation could be a new solution to an old problem or a new approach to a new problem”. Although innovation exists; all too often it is not being positioned correctly or promoted in the right way to the right people. It is critical that we take the time to highlight great work being done, the impact it has made and how this work could be scaled across the business.

Innovation should not be a ‘nice to have’. Innovation is not simply a newsletter or a POV on a new trend. Innovation is a change in how we work, it’s about thinking in a new way. Innovation should then be applied as a process to brands and businesses to identify and drive true business growth.

Innovation should be about how we can better leverage new opportunities which help brands overcome business and marketing challenges.

Addressing the Innovation Gap

In our previous article “The First Steps to Future Readiness”, we discussed the challenge of balancing distraction from industry leaders with business reality, and the need to prioritise initiatives accordingly.

Innovation focuses on the how. It is important to contextualise innovation, so initiatives have focus and are designed to drive real value. There are three key steps agencies and marketers should take:

  1. Discuss and define what innovation means in relation to your brand
    This might sound obvious, but innovation can mean very different things to different people. Taking time to define what innovation means can get to the heart of what is ‘missing’ and what approach to take.
  2. Undertake discovery process to identify the challenge/opportunity for growth
    Interview stakeholders and carry out desk research. The output should specify where innovation processes need to be applied and how success will be defined. This is also a key opportunity to identify who should be responsible to deliver it, both brand and agency.
  3. Define the process to deliver innovation
    Once all parties are aligned on the why, the what, and the who, then address the how. Start small by defining a proof-of-concept test. Go live; establish if it has been a success. If a proven success, then operationalise and scale up with greater investment or across more markets.

Innovation can be hard to define but it does not need to be hard to deliver. As Albert Einstein said: “The very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting a different result.” If we never challenge each other, never test new solutions and are not scaling success across the business; then how can we expect to grow and challenge our competitors?

Ultimately this is what innovation must deliver. True impact for businesses and real, tangible change in both the short and long term.

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