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Marketing innovation

Marketing innovation is the process brands use to create new products and services to meet customer needs. It helps drive growth with existing and new markets and products. But the process itself comes with many challenges. Read our guide to learn more about both formal, and more agile marketing innovation. And find out how the Product Life Cycle and the Innovation Adoption Curve can help you plan for success once you launch. 

Marketing innovation

How this guide raises your game

  1. Learn the different types of marketing innovation and what each means for your business.
  2. Understand marketing innovation process options to move from ideas to launches.
  3. Get ideas on how to manage marketing innovation once it has launched to market.

Marketing innovation is the process businesses use to create and launch new products and services. It combines market research and marketing planning with operational management and financial planning.

It usually runs in parallel with managing existing products and customers. It’s a way to grow your business by meeting new needs from customers.

Marketing innovation’s key roles are to  :-

  • Identify growth opportunities.
  • Set up efficient processes to create and launch new products. 
  • Manage the launch and post-launch marketing plan.
Close up of a man's hands holding a light bulb that's illuminated

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Markets and products for marketing innovation - Ansoff

Though it’s clear what marketing innovation needs to do and why, what the outcomes look like is harder to define. “New” to market could be as simple as a colour change on your packaging, or as complex as inventing a completely new category and changing existing behaviour. (e.g. touchscreen mobile phones). 

To help break down this broad scope, it’s worth looking at who innovation is for and what changes need to happen with the product.

The well-known Ansoff matrix, which dates back to the late 1950s, helps organise marketing innovation by looking at markets and products. The model classifies innovations by whether the innovation is for existing or new versions of each of these elements. 

When you combine the existing / new answers for both product and market, you have a 2 x 2 matrix with four classifications

Let’s look at what each combination means for what you do with marketing innovation. 

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

Market penetration - refine features and benefits

Market penetration is when you make changes to the way you market an existing product to sell to existing markets. You aim to grow market share, by refining product features and benefits to attract more customers. These refinements usually deal with the quality, performance or appeal of the product.

For example, you improve the reliability and durability of the product (improves the quality). You make it easier to use (improves the performance). Or you make it available in more colours or styles (improves the appeal).

You use customer feedback and market research to help you come up with ideas that customers will find relevant. .

Other market penetration activities

You can also drive market penetration with activities other than product improvements. 

You’d use other elements of the 4Ps marketing mix – price, place and promotion – which we cover in more detail in our marketing plan guide.

These are the everyday marketing activities that most businesses do to drive their existing sales. 

So, for example you could drive penetration with price promotion. You could drive it by setting up your own online store. Most advertising work you see is to drive penetration. New ways to sell existing products to existing customers. 

Sale sign in white on a red window with outline of a person walking past in the background

Another market penetration option is acquisition. This is where you buy out, or merge with another player in the market. Combined, you have a larger share of the market. 

Market penetration is seen as the lowest risk of the four options to drive growth. Activities are based on existing knowledge and familiarity. There’s a higher level of certainty about how the market will react. There are less unknown factors where things can go wrong. However, sticking to what you know also potentially limits the size of the opportunity. Low risk usually also equals low reward. 

Market development - new markets

With market development, you take existing products and look for new markets for these products.

For example, you look to grow geographically. You market your brand in new districts, cities, regions or countries.

Or you look to find new customer segments for your product in your existing geography. You revisit your segmentation research and see if you can find opportunities with new segments you didn’t target before. 

A new demographic for example? Or a new occasion? Or perhaps you adapt your brand so it appeal to a different psychographic driver. (see examples of this in our article on behavioural science). 

Your market development could be as simple as finding new needs or wants that your product currently solves beyond its existing market.

Look at the famous story of the creation of Post-It Notes, as an example. .

The technology to create post-it notes was originally as a low-tack adhesive.

But it wasn’t until another engineer identified these notes worked well as a place marker in his books, that the idea for post-it notes as we know them today took off. That was market development, a new market for an existing product. 

Yellow post it with illustration of a lightbulb pinned to a wooden pin board

The opportunity and risk with new markets

New markets have a considerable upside in terms of sales opportunity. If you’re not already selling to that market, anything you do sell will drive your sales growth. 

However, that opportunity also comes with risk, as there’s more unknowns for you to deal with. 

You may not have good customer understanding about a different geography or market segment for example. It can take time and money to adjust your marketing mix to get it right. You have to find the right competitive strategy to make sure you stand out from existing offers. 

There can be a lot of trial and error. You need a strong innovation culture to drive breakthrough ideas.  What works in your existing market, might not translate well for social, cultural or competitive reasons.

Overall, market development offers a larger sales opportunity, but comes with many marketing innovation challenges. 

Product development

In his book, the Innovators Dilemma, Professor Clayton Christensen makes a distinction between sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation.

Sustaining innovation improves existing products as we covered in market penetration earlier. Upgrades to existing feature and benefits for existing customers. But the fundamental nature of the product itself doesn’t change. 

But disruptive innovation does change the fundamental nature of the product. It appeals to a new need or want, or radically changes how that need or want is met. 

That’s what product development is all about. 

Mobile phone on a table wth Netflix logo showing

So for example, in Christensen’s book, he uses the example of marketing innovation in the hard drives for computers. Sustaining innovation increased the storage capability of existing hard drives. (a change to the feature and benefit). Disruptive innovation made new hard drives much smaller, so they could fit into new types of devices. (changing the nature of how we store data on computers)

Another example would be how we watch movies at home. Older people can remember stores like Blockbuster where you hired movies and collected and returned them. Disruptive innovation with streaming services like Netflix have changed the nature of how we do this. Now it’s all available at the press of a button. 

That’s disruptive product development. (see also our article on challenger brands, which often focus on disruptive product development to grow sales). 

The balance between sustaining and disruptive innovation

There’s a fine line to find the balance between sustaining and disruptive innovation. Sustaining innovation can drive growth short to medium term. It’s comparatively low risk as the target audience knows the products and technology.

Disruptive innovation takes longer to grow sales, as you need to develop completely new and educate customers about the improved benefits. But when it does take off, growth can be rapid.

Often there’s a tipping point where disruptive innovation takes over, and companies stuck with sustaining innovation find themselves looking out of date.

There are many examples of this. Look at Nokia and Blackberry for example.

These brands dominated the mobile phone market at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. But they focussed on improvements to the phone technology which was a sustaining innovation.

But they were unable to react to the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007 and its disruptive innovation. The iPhone was more than a phone. The new media and interaction capabilities that it brought changed that market forever. Customers soon expected more from their phones. 

Lots of mobile phones from the end of the 1990s and early 2000s

In terms of risk, product development and market development are usually seen as quite similar. This is because they each have a combination of known and unknown elements to manage. 


The final growth option in Ansoff’s matrix is diversification.

This is where you go after both new products AND new markets.

It can be a completely new direction, but it usually, in some way, relates back to the existing purpose of the business. Maybe you have a core expertise you can translate to a new product and market? We’ll share an example of this shortly.

Or sometimes it’s as simple as just buying a business that seems to be succeeding in a fast growing area you don’t play in. For example, when Unilever bought out Dollar Shave Club to take advantage of its subscription model success.  

Diversification is seen as the highest risk growth options as it has the most unknowns to manage.

Case study example : Sydney Pizza Company

That’s the theory of the Ansoff Matrix , but let’s look at what it might look like with a more practical example.

Let’s imagine we run a pizza restaurant based in Sydney. How could we use the Ansoff matrix to come up with options on how to grow our business through marketing innovation?

Market penetration

So, for this business, a market penetration strategy would aim to get more of our existing customers to buy more pizza.

An easy way to do this would be to offer new pizza toppings to extend our range. This improves a product benefit (the choice of toppings). The assumption is more choice is more appealing to existing customers.

Ansoff matrix - marketing innovation for pizza shop example

Market development

But we could also look to grow our business through market development. As per the example in our guide to segmentation, targeting and positioning neighbouring suburbs might have high potential. Setting up a delivery service to these new areas could grow our business. We’d grow by selling existing products to new markets. 

Product development

Our pizza company could grow though understanding that customers who like pizza also like Italian food in general. 

Our product development could add new Italian food product like pasta and sauces to our offer. This would be  product development, as the new products are for existing customers of the restaurant and delivery service.


Finally, as an out of the (pizza) box option, we could take that theme of “Italian cooking” further. They could stretch it into a completely different area by offering cooking classes in Italian food. This would still “fit” with the brand identity.  

But it’d be a diversification into new products (education) and new consumers. At home cooks will likely be different customers to those who order takeaway food. 

Ansoff’s matrix - Short / Mid / Long-term lens

Ansoff’s matrix is a useful way to classify different types of innovation. Its core 2 questions of existing and new for products and markets can stimulate ideas. These ideas can be a great thought-starter for marketing innovation.

Growth from marketing innovation can come from any one of these four boxes. And for your business, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

May businesses run multiple marketing innovation projects at the same time. You can run a portfolio of marketing innovation projects based on whether your view is short, mid- or long-term, and use different combinations of the Ansoff innovation approaches. 

Man's hand holding a camera lens in front of a lake with mountains and blue skies in the background

Short-term - market penetration

Having some ‘market penetration’ projects in your marketing innovation portfolio gives you a few safer bets. They’re more more likely to generate a short-term return. This keeps cash flow and profit rates ticking over.

Mid-term - product and market development

Both market development and product development have a more mid-term return. They come with more risk and development costs, but when they pay off, they typically drive higher growth than market penetration.

Long-term - diversification

Diversification comes with the most risk of all. But when it works, it also has the highest rewards.

It would be unusual to have an innovation portfolio of only diversification projects. The risk of failure is usually too much.

It’s more common is to test diversification first in a smaller and more agile way to reduce the risk. Whereas the other options for innovation are typically delivered via a more structured and formal approach to innovation.

Let’s more on to look at these two different approaches. 

The innovation process - Formal

There are two different views on “how” to manage marketing innovation – formal and agile. Let’s start with formal. 

The formal view starts with the idea that marketing innovation needs a high level of resources –  money, people and time. You need a formal, structured approach to innovation to manage this high level of investment. 

Control is important. You need safeguards to avoid unnecessary risks. Innovation shouldn’t threaten the business or waste resources. Tried and tested procedures should be in place to ensure marketing innovation projects meets all internal guidelines. This could be quality standards or expected return on investment for example.

This formal process is enforced across the business. This means more time on projects, and less time on process.

Formal innovation projects run with a waterfall approach. The project team follow a series of logical sequential steps to deliver a specific end goal. This is the traditional way to run marketing innovation projects.

While this approach brings a lot of control and consistency to marketing innovation, it’s not without challenges.

Challenges with formal innovation process

Two challenges stand out in particular.

The first is the length of time for an idea to move through this formal process. The process normally involves a number of approval sessions on the idea. Senior managers review the idea and plan, and approve or reject it. 

With three, four or more of these approval stages, this adds a lot of time for innovations to come to market. In the formal model, marketing innovation is slow. 

This can mean you miss out on opportunities if a competitor launches faster. Or something else changes in the market while you wait for your project to get approvals. 

The other challenge the formal approach faces is that it’s better for sustaining, not disrupting innovation.

In the formal innovation process, businesses want certainty of what innovation will deliver. For example, how much the product will sell in a year, or how customers will react to it.

But this is much easier to do with sustaining innovation – where you know the products and markets. It’s much harder to do for disrupting innovation, where the business has to make marketing decisions with some unknown factors. 

These unknowns in product and market development and in diversification make it hard for disruptive ideas to pass through a formal innovation process. Often, there will be a level of scepticism and caution about the size of the opportunity.

The agile approach to marketing innovation aims to get round these barriers, by breaking innovation down into much smaller chunks. Smaller teams are empowered to drive more disruptive innovation. 

But before we go into that, let’s look at how the formal marketing innovation process works. 

The formal innovation process

The process varies from company to company, but typically we’d expect something like the six stages you can see in our innovation process diagram.

Ideas move through the process sequentially. You need approval to move to the next stage. After each stage, the business commits more resource (budget, time or people).

The level of detail behind the idea grows as it moves towards launch. You have a pipeline of ideas, loose at the start and fully formed by the time they launch. 

At any stage, a marketing innovation idea can be rejected. Only the very highest potential ideas or plans reach the launch stage.

Marketing innovation process - formal approach to screening and approval - 6 steps are idea generation, idea screening, business case, develop product, launch, post launch review - with different goals, costs and numbers of ideas

Idea generation

At the idea generation (often shortened to ideation) stage, you aim to generate as many ideas as possible. At this stage the “idea” is kept relatively simple. It’s often succinct enough to be written on a post-it.

Often businesses run ideation workshops with outside facilitators. They’ll use creative thinking techniques like brainstorming or Six Hats to generate many ideas. 

At the idea generation stage, EVERYTHING is possible. There’s no judgement of ideas this early in the process. One person’s crazy idea can spark someone else’s brilliant idea. 

It’s all about quantity, not quality of ideas here. But quality is what you start to look at next. 

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

Idea screening

From these high level ideas, the next stage is to flesh out the detail of the idea. At this stage, you ask the originator of the idea to apply more thought to their concept.

The idea here is to not go too detailed just yet. You ask the idea originator to complete a one-page template to help flesh out what’s behind the  idea. 

Idea screening template example

In this example, there’s nine criteria to fill in to flesh out the initial idea. These help define the idea in more detail so the business can decide whether it’s worth pursuing.

You move from “idea on a post-it” to “idea on a page”. 

Table the shows how to more from idea generation to Idea screening. Criteria are idea title, idea in a tweet, business fit, consumer insight, competitors, key product / service requirements, key enablers, obstacles or barriers, estimated launch timing

These criteria include a name, a short summary of the idea (no more than a few sentences) and how the idea fits the brand vision, identity or growth objective.

Then, some preliminary external factors such as the consumer insight and competitive environment. You’d also include internal factors such as the product or service requirements and any enablers or obstacles and barriers.

Finally, you sales include estimated launch timing.

Idea screening example

So let’s go back to our product development example of a new pasta range for our fictional pizza company.

You can see from this example how you’d add a few sentences against each of the criteria. Your aim is to make it clear why the business should pursue this idea.

At this stage you don’t need a high level of evidence or proof. But you need to articulate the idea in more detail than you did at idea generation. This lets the business compare different marketing innovation ideas against each other.

You’ll be able to see the projects with the highest potential. At this stage, obvious gaps or issues with ideas become more obvious. Some ideas will get rejected.

Idea screen example - pizza shop

You should keep a record of rejected ideas though. They can be useful stimulus for future marketing innovation sessions.

Sometimes good ideas come up, but the time isn’t right to do them. But in the future, an old rejected idea might become a better fit if conditions have changed.

Business case

For approved ideas that pass through screening, the next stage is to go further by working on a business case.

Most businesses have their own format for business cases. In our example, we’ve kept it relatively simple by focussing on key questions to answer how the idea will develop. 

How will the idea develop?

While the screening template was relatively easy to complete, the process now gets more challenging. 

You have to start to investigate in more detail HOW you’ll develop the idea.

At this stage, you might test the idea with customers with qualitative research for example. This helps to refine the idea and build confidence customers will actually like it. 

The business case defines key decisions like the target audience and the fit to the brand identity.

This business case can  will also define the planned marketing mix. For example, price, channel and customer trade plans and a high level view of marketing communication plans.

marketing innovation business case challenges

The business case aims to test the validity and likely success of the idea. It sets expectations on how the idea will perform against competitors. It can explore the consumer insight and the likely appeal to the target audience.

The business case also includes details on the finances. It should include the forecast and the profit and loss for the first 2 to 5 years. You should include additional costs like new machinery, extra staff, R&D costs or extra marketing spend. 

Compare innovation ideas with a scoring matrix

The business case can also include some sort of scoring matrix to help compare the attractiveness of different ideas.

This includes decision-making crieterais defined by the business leadership team. Typically, these focus on financial returns and strategic fit. 

In this example, you can see we’ve identified three financial criteria to evaluate – size, profit and spend.

For each criteria, the idea would get a score – 1,3 or 9 – based on how it performs.

Because size of opportunity is such an important part of the opportunity, its score is often given extra weight. In this case, it counts double.

Innovation business case - Financial and strategy score

We’ve also identified three strategic criteria. Fit to the brand vision, level of competition and how fast the marketing innovation can come to market.

The idea of the scoring matrix is to allow the leadership team to easily compare between projects. This helps with prioritisation. You prioritise the projects with the highest score. 

Develop product to launch

If the business case is approved, then a project team comes together to take the project to launch.

This launch plan usually operates at two levels. There’s a high level launch plan that summarises the key points of the business case and what else needs to be done. 

Then, there’s a plan that’s essentially the  marketing plan for the new product. (see also our brand activation guide for more examples).

Usually, there’d also be a final approval by the business leadership team to go launch the product.

The final plan needs to build confidence that everything’s in place and ready to go. 

Business case to launch plan - marketing innovation

Launch and post launch review

Of course, once a new product hits the market, it needs on-going support to continue to  grow.

For this, the launch plan needs to cover who manages the product after it launches. It should show what resources you need (money, time, people), and how you’ll track and measure performance. You need to include how you’ll manage competitor reactions and challenges from retail customers. Include contingency plans for different scenarios in case the launch doesn’t go as planned. 

Conclusion - formal innovation process

The main benefits of this formal process is it reduces the chances of bad ideas making it to market. All ideas have to go through a series of hurdles before they can launch.

Anyone who has a stake in the innovation launch has a chance to share their views. The assumption is an idea becomes better when many people contribute to it, than when it’s just one person’s idea. 

However, as we’ve previously outlined, the downside of these hurdles and stakeholder engagement is that the process can be slow and risk-averse.

Running track with hurdles set up for a sprint race

It also requires a lot of discipline to maintain the integrity of the process. It’s easier to NOT do things than do new things. Functional politics in the business can derail the process. (see for example our articles on barriers to marketing and barriers to e-Commerce).

Though it’s designed as an innovation process, the focus is on eliminating rather than creating ideas. It can cause a lot of frustration when ideas get rejected when they’re close to launch after a lot of work’s gone into them. 

Agile innovation methodology

To get around the slow and risk-averse downside of formal marketing innovation, in recent years, a faster and lower risk approach called “agile” marketing innovation has become more popular.

In this approach, some process guidelines remain, but it’s much more fluid and flexible. Agile innovation projects are set up with smaller teams, and a faster and leaner process.

In agile, you don’t focus on finding the one big innovation that’ll be a blockbuster launch. Instead you take much smaller “prototype” innovations to market with small segments only.

These multiple small launches gather feedback directly from customers. You only scale up a project after you get feedback on the prototype idea. 

Woman in exercise gear sitting cross legged on a yoga mat and twisting to one side

How agile works - sprints

In agile innovation, big ideas are broken into much smaller chunks. Dedicated small teams work on these smaller ideas in 2 – 4 week ‘sprints’.

These teams are empowered to deliver against the idea. The agile process defines clear roles such as :-

  • Product Owner (the ‘decider’ on the idea)
  • the Scrum Master (the leader of the project team) and
  • the Subject Matter Experts on the team (usually between 6 to 8 technical experts).

The idea for this methodology came from large scale IT projects as we cover in our guide to marketing technology.

Relay sprinter holding a baton in his blocks about to start a sprint relay

In a similar way to the slow progress of formal marketing innovation, large IT projects often got bogged down in internal decision making. They were slow to launch and complex to manage. 

The idea of agile methodology is to go faster with shorter bursts of activity on smaller parts of a big idea. Each sprint has to deliver something at the end. The team are empowered to make faster marketing decisions

The innovation idea progresses in short manageable bursts, where there is always something new to work on. 

Prototype testing

Often the sprint team builds prototypes to test with customers. They build a working version of a core feature or function of a product, and customers tell them what they think.

This feedback goes back in to then refine the idea or product. 

You gain a lot of speed in innovation using an agile approach. But you do need to set up a strong innovation culture to make it work. Some ideas will fail, but because the ideas are small, everybody learns from the marketing mistakes.  

Because the teams are also necessarily smaller and the Product Owner can take decisions without the need for a leadership committee, it does require other parts of the business to buy in to the process. They’ll have less opportunity to input or approve. 

Agile versus Formal marketing innovation

In reality, agile and formal are ends of a spectrum. You choose where each project goes on the spectrum. If you’re running multiple projects, they can be at different parts of the spectrum i.e. you can have a mix of agile and formal projects. 

Which approach you choose depends on business context. For example, factors like how you see risk, the speed of innovation in your category and the size of your business.

Generally, larger business prefer the traditional approach. Smaller businesses (especially if they’re challenger brandsprefer the agile approach.

The Product Life Cycle

As part of the post-launch plan for marketing innovation, businesses often use the Product Life Cycle to shape their plans and priorities.

This model predicts how products evolve over time once they launch in terms of sales and business challenges.

This concept originated back in the 1960s but is still commonly used today.

You use it to identify the most likely scenario of sales, investment, competition and profit a marketing innovation will see over time, if it’s successful.

It describes the ‘life’ of a typical product and how it might go through different life stages. 

Product Life Cycle - graph labelled Introduction, growth, maturity and decline

Challenges to the Product Life Cycle

One of the obvious challenges to this model is that it’s not universal. Not all products follow this S-Curve pattern. Many products never make it beyond the introduction stage.

Marketers who use the model also point out that the maturity and decline stage has become a self-satisfying prophecy. In fact, it’s possible with disruptive innovation to breathe new life into mature products and categories.

Those challenges aside, the Product Lifecycle model remains a useful guide to forecast, plan and manage a new product after launch. Lets’ look at each of the key stages.


The Product Life Cycle shows that new products rarely reach their peak quickly. They might make a lot of noise at the Introduction stage, but it takes time to grow sales.

This makes sense.

When a product launches, the market doesn’t know what it is. It takes time for them to become aware and consider it.  You need to invest in advertising and public relations. You need to build presence in all your sales channels.

These take time to have an impact. 

How much time depends on the nature of the new product, and the size and scale of the brand behind it.

Inside a concept hall, lots of confetti flying in air, with audience reaching out their hands towards it

Bigger brands will have bigger launch budgets and expect faster results. But for smaller brands, it may take 6 to 12 months for new product launches to win over new customers.

Commercial mix post launch is key

It’s important to keep a close eye on the commercial mix at the introduction stage. .

Sales  will be low, but you’l need to spend on advertising and media to create awareness, consideration and trial.

So profits will be low, or even negative at this stage. You need to communicate the need for patience and a longer-term view on profitability.

It’s helpful to track non-financial KPIs in this introduction phase. Look at factors such as awareness and trial rates as these can help predict future sales and profit levels.

Person holding 6 hundred dollar bills in front of them which have been set alight


In this phase, growth accelerates as the popularity of the product grows. More customers become more aware, consider and try the product. Your aim is to maximise the growth and share. You drive growth through more customer adoption.

Marketing spend stays high to support the growth and bring in more customers. Profitability levels start to rise as growing sales help to bring more scale to the business, and spread the impact of fixed costs over more volume.

At this point though, competitors take more notice. Competition becomes tougher as they either launch their own innovation, push hard on communications or do more price discounting


At some point growth rates start to slow down as the category / product reaches maturity. This maturity phase accounts for the most people in the market and the product takes on a mainstream status.

This stage can be extremely profitable. The level of investment to maintain sales can be much smaller as a percentage of total sales than needed to drive growth in earlier phases.

The key challenge here though is that because of the size of the market, competition will likely be high.

Bigger players in the market will look to defend their size. This can often lead to more aggressive price positions.

Bigger players will also look to sustaining innovations to keep this profitable maturity position going as long as possible. They can become fixed on the short-term. This maintenance of sustaining innovations can quickly become threatened by new entrants to the market with disruptive innovations.


At some point, the model argues all products will start to enter a decline phase. A new product or invention might fill the need better. The market might become so saturated that that there are just fewer new consumers. Or it can just be that fashion, culture or lifestyle trends have changed. 

At this stage, investment reduces. The business effectively milks as much as it can get from what is left in the category. 

Overall, the Product Life Cycle give a useful guide to predict what might happen with your marketing innovation. It’s helpful to understand what the business model and commercial mix might look like.

But bear in mind that marketing is not just about the product, it’s also about the customers that buy the product. The Innovation Adoption Curve takes a similar view of how marketing innovations roll out to market, but looks at it from the customer’s point of view. 

Innovation Adoption Curve

In this model, the S-Curve of the Product Life Cycle is mapped towards customers rather than products. The assumption is that certain types of customers are more open and willing to take risks on new products than others. 


It argues there’s always a small group of customers who love to be the first in the market to try new products. They’re curious and passionate about the category, and willing to pay for new experiences. 

The number of innovators is usually small, but they can be useful as influencers as others see them as experimenters, experts and pioneers.

Consumer adoption of marketing innovation.

These will be the customers most likely to buy or try a product during its introduction phase. Typically, this group might only make up 2.5% of total sales, but they’re important because they’re the FIRST 2.5% of sales.

Early adopters

Early adopters are a larger group who often make or break products. These customers are closely linked to the growth part of the Product Life Cycle.

They may not always be the first to try new products, but they closely follow the behaviour of innovators. Early adopters are open to try new ideas once they see innovators go first..

They’re an important group because they typically account for around 13.5% of sales.

And when a product has reached >15% of the market (the innovators and early adopters combined), it often has enough visibility and usage to get noticed by the majority.

There’s a theory from the book Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore that the leap from early adopters to the early majority is the toughest part of innovation. There’ll always be people willing to try new products. But the leap from ‘new’ to ‘mainstream’ can be particularly challenging.

Early and late majority

This group is the biggest and most profitable group.

However, it takes time to reach this group as they’re usually settled into established routines. They don’t buy into new innovations until they have some sort of social proof (see our article on behavioural science for more on this) that it’s accepted in the market.

They’re more cautious about innovation. But once a product has become ‘accepted’ and it becomes part of their routine, that’s when you see the value in the majority. They’ll typically be very loyal customers once they choose a brand. 


Laggards are the last group to ‘get’ new innovations. They are typically conservative. This group only enter the market when often there’s no choice not to, or that prices have dropped so it’s a low investment.

Conclusion - marketing innovation

Marketing innovation is hard. There’s a lack of certainty about which products will work. no business gets it right every time, everyone has innovation failures at some point. 

Apple’s iPhone has been phenomenally successful, but remember the Newton? No, because it flopped.

Google’s innovative at search, but for all it invested in Google Glasses, no-one’s wearing them today. 

Amazon is a hugely successful online retailer, but heavily promoted innovations like its Amazon Dash buttons or its Amazon Spark shopping program didn’t work and are no longer around. .

Close up of a man's hands holding a light bulb that's illuminated

Have a pipeline of marketing innovations because some will fail

Those examples show the key thing to remember with marketing innovation.

There’s never a 100% change of success. 

Sure, you can take the lessons of formal innovation or agile innovation and use them to increase your chances. But sometimes, even those won’t work, if something in the market is outside your control. 

Make sure you have contingency plans. Have a pipeline of innovation projects in development. if you need to walk away from a marketing innovation, make sure it doesn’t kill your business.

There’s a lot involved in the process of marketing innovation. If you’re hungry for more innovation content, check out our article on the toughness of innovation delivery.  

Three-brains and marketing innovation

Need expert help to drive your marketing innovation? We have many years of experience as marketers creating and launching successful marketing innovation.  

We offer coaching and consulting services to listen to your marketing challenges, and help you find answers quickly. Contact us to see how we can raise your marketing innovation game. 

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