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Marketing innovation lessons – great idea, tougher reality

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Why read this? : We share key marketing innovation lessons to help you better manage how you innovate. Learn why growth and ideas are important drivers of innovation. And learn why setting up the right systems and teams to deliver those can be such a challenge. Read this for practical innovation lessons you can apply to your own business.  

For businesses, marketing innovation is like the 8 glasses of water you’re supposed to drink every day. It sounds like it should be easy. And starting to do marketing innovation is easy. Like that first glass of water. You enjoy it. It’s new, and you’re 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 beer or wine looks more appealing. The end’s 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 a tough slog. So, this week’s article shares some marketing innovation lessons we’ve learned over the years to help make it easier. 

What do we mean by marketing innovation?

Let’s start with what we mean when we say marketing innovation.

You could interpret it at a very broad level as anything new or creative in 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 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? 

Technically, yes. But in reality, none of these are what most people think of as innovation. Innovation is usually something bigger. More profound. Something which changes the product or service. Or changes the way the brand interacts with customers. It’s new things done in a new way to grow your business. 

Lesson #1 - focus on growth

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

It’s a strategic planning tool dating back to 1957 which shows 4 ways business can drive growth.

Growth comes from existing or new products. And it comes from existing or new markets. You get 4 different growth options depending how you make theses choices. Which options you for shapes what you do in marketing innovation

The key is the focus on growth. It’s the whole point of innovation.

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

If you’re unclear how it’ll grow your business, don’t do it. Start with that growth 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 - the dopamine reward 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 mental associations which 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 associations?

Well, it’s to do with 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) which 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 new information, it releases dopamine. This is the chemical associated with reward and motivation.

In simple terms, the brain motivates us to seek out “new” things, and rewards us with a chemical which makes us feel good. There’s a great article here which covers 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. Use that to make your projects feel more rewarding. To help you get people more on board.

Second glass of water down.

So far, so good. 

Lesson #3 - rethink your innovation systems

Now, here’s where it starts to get tougher.

Because when you actually map out how to do innovation, you realise the process is complex. Lots of steps to go through. Lots of people to involve. And the next of our innovation lessons is that people don’t like complexity.

That includes marketing innovation systems. 

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. You can see an example process in the image.

Marketing innovation process - formal approach to screening and approval

And at each of these steps, there are challenges. Many, many challenges. 

Will customers 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.

Oh, and if all that wasn’t enough, how much of it will you sell, and still make a profit?

Hurdles to innovation

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

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 a bit 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 couple of 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?

Lesson #4 - Get the right people and team together

What we’ve found makes the biggest difference is to get the right type of person and 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.

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 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 creators, not critics and you find them in the best creative companies.  But, every example of businesses we’ve worked with that delivered great innovation were able to find and nurture these types of people. 

That’s our most important innovation lesson of all. An idea is only an idea, unless you have the right people and team 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 compared to doing something you already know. 

It helps when you focus on growth. Use a tool like the Ansoff Matrix to help you decide how and where you’ll use the innovation to grow. 

Then, recognise why people like innovation. Our brains are tuned to look for new things. And we get a pleasure kick when we discover them. Use that to your advantage to help you overcome problems. 

Next, look at the system behind your innovation. You need a system, but people aren’t excited by systems. So, look at different ways to make the system work, like using an agile approach to help you get over innovation hurdles. 

Lastly, think about the people and teams 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 topic. Or contact us for more innovation lessons you apply to your growth plans. 

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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