Innovation in marketing is moving at a blistering pace

Giles Lury examines the Ideas Machine

They used to say that the only certainties in life were death and taxes. Well, you can add to those the notion of ‘constant change’. But while it is true that change is continuous – even change is changing – it’s also getting much faster.

Innovation was always a key role for marketing. But its importance is increasing and evolving every day.

Here are five changes I have seen in the world of innovation:

Feel the need for speed

The accelerating pace of change in many markets – with new technologies, new business models, changing attitudes and customer expectations, and the emergence of highly disruptive new players – means the need for speed is greater than ever. The buzzwords in innovation are ‘agile’ and ‘sprints’. The first refers to what you must be, and the second to the process you should be adopting. Forget six months, you should be thinking in terms of six weeks – or better still – six days. Many say innovation is a journey, but it can no longer be a marathon.

Beyond friends and family

In the past, start-ups couldn’t afford the large research budgets commanded by larger brands, so had to rely on their instincts or use dipstick research among their friends and family. While that still goes on in some cases, the digital age means that even fledging brands can tap into wider audiences and get almost immediate responses. From posting questions on social media to testing multiple alternative website pages, the level and depth of response they can get is much richer. Mass digital testing is levelling that playing field. The notion that small new brands can’t afford research is increasingly a thing of the past.

Can’t innovate, won’t innovate

One trend prevalent among larger organizations is based on their acceptance that they aren’t very good at – or set up for – radical innovation. So, they are adopting an ‘if we can’t do it, buy it’ approach. Recognizing that they may not be the best environments, that they might not have the right attitude to risk, or are simply too stuck in their ways to nurture truly novel ideas, they have decided to act as incubators for start-ups or to simply buy young companies. Others are using open source innovation in their search for the next big thing.

Ssssh! I’m innovating

Susan Cain’s book Quiet has helped millions of introverts around the world. But I’m not sure even she foresaw her role in championing ‘introverted innovators’. Marketing loves a good brainstorm – and nowhere more so than for ideation. These sessions are ideal for extroverts who are loud, competitive and want to have their ideas heard. They are not great forums for introverts, who often take a little more time to consider things and are then more reserved about putting their ideas forward. More recently, consultancies like ours are finding new means of tapping into introverts’ ideas and using ‘quiet innovation’ techniques.

One size doesn’t fit all

Innovation helps drive growth, but growth comes in numerous different forms. It can be about stealing share with an existing brand in its core category. It can come from identifying your competitors’ weaknesses and exploiting them, or from entering new territories, extending your brand into adjacent categories and finding something new to bring to that market. It can also come from reacting to emerging needs, acting fast to bring new ideas to market. Or it can come in the form of more radical innovation: pioneering, finding new market opportunities, new business models or new routes to market.

Different types of innovation need different approaches with different people of different mindsets using different methodologies. It’s an approach we’ve used with great success.

And will that be the end to innovations in innovation? No, because as the famous US ad man Bruce Barton said: “When you’re through changing, you’re through.”

— Giles Lury is director at The Value Engineers and author of How Coca-Cola Took Over the World: and 100 More Amazing Stories About the World’s Greatest Brands