What is innovation?

What is innovation?

More than just a buzzword, innovation is about achieving growth for your organisation.

Innovation has always mattered to marketers. While professionals such as lawyers, shipbuilders and publicans may extol the virtues of tradition – and be quite right to do so – for marketers the focus has always been on how tomorrow can be better, and different, than today.

The tendency has become even more pronounced of late, as Jack Swayne, chief strategy and analytics officer at digital performance marketing agency iProspect UK, explains: “Despite convergence giving people greater control of the media, content, and brands they consume, people are still consuming more media than ever before. This increased consumption has led to more investment in advertising, and therefore a greater need for brands to innovate to cut through the clutter and create more meaningful connections with people. The term ‘marketing innovation’ is often misused, but that should not take away from its importance in today’s digital economy.”

Beyond technology

Yet our understanding of what marketing innovation actually means is not always as clear as it could be. Too often it is confused with technological advancement. “Talk to 10 different marketers and you'll likely get 10 different definitions of innovation,” says David Eglin, creative technologist at marketing agency Connect. “It's an open-ended concept that is difficult to nail down. It can stand for technological advancement, new products, improved processes and a host of other changes. You'll hear a lot of people talk about innovation using buzzwords such as ‘big data’, ‘cloud computing’ or ‘mobile first’, but ultimately these things are all just tools.”

Equally, as Swayne goes on to argue, marketers can fall into the trap of believing that if something is new it is necessarily innovative. “Marketing innovation is often confused with marketing imitation, automation, or just doing something new for the sake of newness,” he says. “To truly innovate, brands must do things differently to do it better. It does not have to be just technology or product or digital innovation, it can be as simple as the way organisations share information internally, create workstreams, or present data. As long as the outcome is better than it was previously, then it is innovation.”

Crucially, innovation goes beyond the realm of ideas to become action. “Innovation is the combination of creativity and implementation, to solve a human problem and critically, to create business value,” says Peter Sayburn, co-founder and CEO at innovation consultancy Market Gravity.

He continues: “It is much greater than simply a big idea or new piece of technology; it’s about putting your ideas into practice. Every company has hundreds of ideas, but it’s hard to harness them and get them to market. Innovation needs room and time to iterate, experiment and learn through trial and error; it can often be difficult to do at the same time as dealing with other work priorities, making process improvements or completing your ‘business as usual’ activities.”

Enduring business success

This is a long-term process requiring as much patience as investment, Sayburn believes it is worthwhile. “I would say that innovation is the only real path to enduring business success,” he concludes. “To stay relevant to your clients and customers and one step ahead of the competition, you must keep doing things that are new and better. Innovation can result in creating higher market value for a business too – an ‘innovation premium’ in the stock market. It can benefit society as a whole. By harnessing the creativity inside our companies, we have the potential to make all our lives better.”

Alex Blyth Freelance Journalist CPL
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