Marketing innovation lessons – great idea, tougher reality

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Snapshot : Read our quick guide to four marketing innovation lessons you can apply to your business right away. Firstly, make sure the innovation focusses on growth.  Then, understand why people like the idea of marketing innovation, but why the systems needed to make it work mean it’s tough to do. And so finally, what type of person or team do you need to drive your marketing innovation?

For businesses, marketing innovation is a little like the eight glasses of water you are supposed to have every day to stay healthy. It sounds like it should be easy. And starting to do marketing innovation is easy, like that first glass of water. you enjoy it, because it’s new and you are thirsty for newness.

But the closer you get to the end, the tougher it gets. It’s not new any more. Other things distract you. Something else like that beer or glass of wine looks more appealing. The end is always tougher than the start. 

Because everyone likes the idea of marketing innovation. 

But when you get into the actual doing of marketing innovation, it’s often a tough slog. So, in this week’s article, we want to cover a couple of marketing innovation lessons we’ve picked up over the years. 

What do we mean by marketing innovation?

Well, let’s start off with what we mean by marketing innovation. You could interpret it at a very broad level as trying anything new or being creative in the area of marketing. After all, the origin of that word innovation comes from the Latin novus, meaning new. And, marketing people do new things all the time, don’t they? But does anything “new” really count as an innovation? 

For example, is a new social media post an innovation? What about an update to the product page on your online store, is that an innovation? What about that spreadsheet with next year’s forecast for the finance team? Is that an innovation? 

Well, possibly yes to all of the above, except the spreadsheet.

But in actual reality, the way most people think about marketing innovation, it’s none of these things really. Marketing innovation is usually something much bigger and more profound. Something that changes the product or service. Or something that changes the way that marketing operates and interacts with the customer.

Lesson #1 – focus on growth

One of the most underrated models from the world of marketing innovation is the Ansoff Matrix. 

Ansoff matrix - Marketing innovation options - 2 x2 matrix of new/existing products and markets

It’s a strategic planning tool dating back to 1957 that outlines four key ways business can drive growth. Growth comes from existing or new products. And it comes from existing or new markets. However you combine these 2 x 2 options, gives you your four choices of how to grow your business. And as we cover in more detail in our guide to marketing innovation, which of these you choose to play in sets the direction for your marketing innovation activity. 

So, if you focus then on marketing innovation as a way to grow your business, you start with the right focus or end goal in mind. That’s like your first glass of water of the day nailed. The focus on growth is the first of our marketing innovation lessons.

Lesson #2 – why people like the idea of marketing innovation

Imagine if “marketing innovation” were a brand in its own right. It’d have an interesting brand identity, wouldn’t it? Think about the metal associations that go with that word “innovation”. Dynamic. Exciting. Bold. Breakthrough. Game-changing. You can almost see the essence, the values, the personality right away, can’t you?

But why, does “innovation” have those mental associations.

Well, it really comes down to how your brain works. And in particular, how your brain processes anything new. Because, there’s a part of our brain called the substantia nigra / ventral segmental area (or SN/VTA) that is designed to process new stimuli.

This part of the brand feeds into the hippocampus, which compares stimulus to existing memories. And it also feeds into the amygdala which responds to emotional stimuli and strengthens long-term memories. But as the brain process the new information, it releases dopamine, which is associated with reward and motivation. So, essentially, the brain motivates us to seek out “new” things and rewards us with a chemical that makes us feel good. There’s a great article here which expands on this in more detail. 

But if you bring that back to marketing innovation, that’s why as a concept, as an idea, it has high appeal in businesses. People want to be associated with “new” things because it feels more exciting, more rewarding. They get that little dopamine kick from the association with novelty.

Second glass of water down. Maybe even, the third one. 

So far, so good. 

Lesson #3 – you need a system and systems aren’t motivating

Now, here’s where it starts to get tougher. Because when you actually map out HOW to do innovation, you start to realise that actually, to do marketing innovation meaningfully is actually quite complex.

Marketing innovation process - formal approach to screening and approval

As we cover in our guide on marketing innovation, there’s usually a well-defined process that you need to go from a marketing innovation idea to an actual launch. And at each step, there are challenges.

Many, many challenges. 

Will consumers actually like the idea? How much will it cost? How much will you be able to sell it for? Can you secure all the resources you need to make the idea happen? And resources could be anything from raw ingredients, to technical expertise to actual people needed to make the idea work. Where will you sell it?

Hurdles and gates

If you’ve ever had to manage a marketing innovation idea through a medium to large sized business, you’ll recognise that it’s a constant barrage of questions and challenges to actually get an idea to launch. In fact, business often call the the transition between each of the stages in a formal innovation process hurdles or gates. Like, you literally have to stop and climb over something that’s designed to stop the idea making it to market.

Those hurdles and gates don’t release any dopamine. They are a grind for the brain to work though. They create mental pain to try and influence and persuade others to see your point of view.

And even though, newer ways of working in marketing innovation like agile methodology (see again our marketing innovation guide can take some of this pain away, there are still many challenges you need to meet to get your marketing innovation ideas up and running. 

OK, so maybe we’ve slogged through those fourth, fifth and six glasses of water. We’re feeling a bit full of water now. But what do we need to get to that final goal? That eight glass of water.

And the most important lesson of all …

What we’ve found makes the biggest difference is when you can get the right type of person or team to work on marketing innovation. This is the most important of our marketing innovation lessons. Because if you put the wrong type of people on the job, it’ll never work.

In most businesses, the team who work on an innovation project are put together based on their functional expertise and knowledge. They’re picked based on what they know. 

But rarely do businesses pick the people for these teams based on how they work.

How do they respond when something goes wrong? How do they listen to other people’s ideas and add new ways of thinking? What happens when an assumption or an idea takes the team in a different direction? Because you need a lot of resilience, creative thinking and a relentless focus on the end goal to be good at marketing innovation.

There are people who are naturally good at playing in the uncertain and unpredictable space that is marketing innovation. Who are open-minded, curious, flexible and goal-focussed. If and when you find these people, cultivate them. They are few and far between, but every example of businesses we’ve worked with that delivered great innovation were able to find and nurture these types of people. 

Photo credit : Person holding light bulb : Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

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