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Marketing innovation lessons – great idea, tougher reality

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Why read this? : We share innovation lessons which make launching new ideas less hard work. Learn about having a growth focus, why dopamine matters and how to set up ideas systems and teams. Read this to learn how to improve your innovation’s impact.

Marketing innovation is like the 8 glasses of water you’re supposed to drink every day. Doesn’t sound that hard. And it starts OK. Like the first glass of water, you start innovation thirsty for something new. But the closer you get to the end, the harder it gets. And it becomes an energy-sapping slog to reach your goal. 

Most people like the idea of marketing innovation. But there are many challenges to overcome in the actual doing of it. That’s why this week’s focus is on innovation lessons. Use these to help you keep going when your innovation inevitably gets tough. 

The meaning of marketing innovation

Let’s start with what marketing innovation means, as not everyone understands it in the same way. 

At the broadest level, you could argue it covers anything new in your 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 is everything “new” you do in marketing always an innovation?

Person holding light bulb with blurred out light effect in the background

For example, is a new social media post an innovation? What about a product page update 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? 

Technically, yes. These are all “new”. But in reality, most people wouldn’t think of these as innovations. Innovation is usually something bigger. More profound. Something which changes the product or service, and its impact on customers. New things done in a new way to grow your business. This brings us to the first of our innovation lessons, which is to focus on growth

Innovation lessons #1 - growth focus

One helpful way to do this is to use something like the Ansoff Matrix in your innovation process. 

It’s a strategic planning tool dating back to 1957 which shows 4 sources of business growth.

Growth comes from existing or new products. And it comes from existing or new markets. You get 4 different growth options depending on how you choose existing or new. 

Growth is the key. It’s the whole point of innovation.

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

If your innovation isn’t driving growth, don’t do it. Nail down your growth goal for innovation and it’s like nailing that first glass of water of the day. 

Innovation lessons #2 - dopamine and marketing innovation

The next of our innovation lessons focuses on how you stay motivated to keep going.

But first, let’s imagine if “marketing innovation” were a brand in its own right. That’d be an interesting brand identity, right? For example, think about the mental associations which go with the 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 associations? Well, it has to do with how your brain works. And in particular, how your brain processes anything new. In simple terms, your brain rewards you for seeking out new things. 

It works like this. A part of our brain called the substantia nigra / ventral segmental area processes new stimuli. It feeds information about the new thing into the hippocampus, which compares new stimuli to existing memories. And it also feeds information into the amygdala which responds to emotional stimuli and strengthens long-term memories.

As it does this, the brain releases dopamine. This is the chemical associated with reward and motivation. So, the brain motivates us to seek out “new” things by rewarding us with feel-good chemicals

This is partly why differentiation and having strong emotional benefits matter so much in branding. But in terms of innovation lessons, it’s also why people find the idea of it so appealing in business. “New” things feel more exciting. More rewarding. There’s a dopamine kick from novelty. So reinforce that kick by regularly reminding people of the rewards of your innovation projects. Do this to help your innovation project teams stay motivated.

Second glass of water down. So far, so good. 

Innovation lessons #3 - rethink your innovation systems

Here’s where it starts to get tougher.

When you map out how innovation happens, it’s soon clear the process is complex. Lots of steps to follow. Lots of people to involve. And the next of our innovation lessons is that people don’t like this complexity. They avoid it at all costs. This makes innovation harder. 

As per our marketing innovation guide, there’s usually a well-defined process which takes you from a marketing innovation idea to an actual launch. And there are challenges at each step. 

Marketing innovation process - formal approach to screening and approval

Many, many challenges. 

Will customers like the idea? How much will it cost? How much will you be able to sell it for? Do you have all the resources you need to make it happen? And resources could be anything from raw ingredients to technical expertise to hard cash to invest.

Oh, and if all that wasn’t enough, what’s your forecast? How much of it will you sell, and still make a profit?

Hurdles to innovation

If you’ve ever had to manage an innovation idea through a business, you know you face a constant barrage of questions and challenges to actually get an idea over the line.

In fact, businesses often set up formal meetings to pose these questions and challenges. They call them hurdle or gate meetings. They’re designed to slow down the idea and make it harder to launch. Or to kill ideas completely. 

Running track with hurdles set up for a sprint race

(You find similar hurdles in creative approval processes and also in setting up a new e-Commerce business by the way).

Those hurdles and gates don’t release dopamine. Far from it. They’re a grind for the brain to work though. They create mental pain as you try to influence others to see your point of view.

Newer approaches like agile methodology (see again our marketing innovation guide) make it easier. But, they’re still part of a system which slows ideas down, rather than accelerates them to market. 

OK, so maybe we’ve slogged through those next few glasses of water. Feeling a bit bloaty now with all this innovation stuff. But what do we need to get to that final goal? What’s that innovation eighth glass of water?

Innovation lessons #4 - Get the right team together

We’ve found the biggest difference comes from getting the right type of people to work on innovation. This is the most important of our innovation lessons. Because if you don’t have the right people, innovation will never work.

In most businesses, innovation project teams come together based on their functional expertise and knowledge. They’re picked based on what they know. But rarely do those teams come together based on how they work. And that’s where the opportunity lies. 

Prioritise how innovation teams work together

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 innovation.

Some people are naturally good at playing in this uncertain and unpredictable space. They’re open-minded, curious, flexible and goal-focussed.

If and when you find these people, cherish them. They’re creators, and you find them in the best creative companies.  Every business that delivers great innovation nurtures these types of people. 

That’s the most important of our innovation lessons. An idea is only an idea unless you have the right people to bring it to life. 

Conclusion - marketing innovation lessons

Marketing innovation isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s always harder to do something new than keep going with what you already do.  

It helps to focus on growth. Using a tool like the Ansoff Matrix helps you find new sources of growth. 

Remember why people like innovation. Our brains reward us for looking for new things. Use that to help you keep going when the going gets tough. 

Look at your innovation system. You need a system, but systems don’t excite people. Explore different ways to make the system work, like using an agile approach to get over innovation hurdles. 

Lastly, think about the people who’ll do your innovation. It takes a certain type of person, and a certain style to do innovation well. Finding the right type of people makes every other part of innovation much easier. 

Check out our marketing innovation guide and breakthrough ideas article for more on this. Or reach out for more innovation lessons you can use to grow your business.

Photo credits

Person holding light bulb : Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

Hurdles : Photo by Jeremy Chen on Unsplash

Three people pointing at laptop : Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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