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Why the marketing industry's obsession with innovation is making innovation old hat

By Joanne Scott | Strategy Director

Connect Group


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March 3, 2017 | 6 min read

Over the years, I am sure many of you have received briefs from clients asking for ‘the wow factor’. But more recently, I am seeing a re-occurring theme, almost on a weekly basis. The briefs start by saying ‘we are an innovative brand’ and almost always include ‘our campaign needs to be innovative’.

Old hats

/ Wiebrig Krakau

The word ‘innovation’ is so overused it’s becoming ironic. And more to the point, what does it actually mean?

Let me start by saying that innovation isn’t a thing. I don’t approach my creative director asking for ‘something innovative’ and a week later expect to be served an award-winning, innovative solution.

Instead it is a way of thinking differently to solve a real problem. Despite what many brands think, just because you have developed something new, that does not make it innovative.

The best creative ideas come from really understanding your customers. Finding an innovative way to solve a problem is no different.

There are four simple questions that always need to be answered:

1. Who are you targeting?

2. What is their problem?

3. How does your idea solve their problem?

4. What makes your solution different?

It stops us from being too focused on the product and puts the consumers’ problem at the heart of the idea generation.

For example, I would not define myself as an ‘innovative thinker’. Instead I consider myself to be passionately curious about solving brand problems in a way that has never been done before.

To be truly innovative, you need a culture that cultivates and nurtures innovative thinking. This doesn’t just happen. You must implement practical steps to help create this culture and make sure it runs through the heart of every single employee – old and new.

Innovate as a team

Innovation can’t exist as a single function. Everyone working on the project needs to be working to the same brief and be very clear of the problem you are trying to fix. The best teams are those with a varied skill set. An expert in the latest technologies, a strategist that understands the business model, a creative with brave ideas – all come together to create a brand-new solution to what can often be an age-old problem.

Recruit values-compatible people

A team can only be as strong as its weakest link so choose your team wisely. A well-known saying, yes, but very true. Only employ people that you believe match your values and culture. Seek talent from places you know will help you deliver your business objectives.

Identify innovation champions

Who are your people that are good at thinking AND doing? Use them throughout your business to help engage change. They could run innovation workshops and network with other industry leaders. These champions help inspire the rest of the business.

Live your values

We’ve all seen it plastered on office walls ‘we are innovative’. But do your staff really know what they can do individually, to make that happen? Have practical objectives in employees PDRs that align to this value.

Learn and be inspired by others

Invite guest speakers from your network, or beyond, to come and talk about how they do it – a great way to inspire thinking across the business. If you’ve just done a great project for a client using a technology you’ve never used before, get the client in to talk about how successful it was and share their experiences with the team.

Joint ventures

Collaborating with a company from an entirely different industry can lead to interesting discussions. You could find you have similar issues but can help each other, in a non-conflicting way.

Use teams from outside your business

For example, partner with a University or technical college. This is a great way to find future talent but you can also get a fresh perspective that you may not see from inside your organisation.

Accept failure

As hard as it may be to accept, it’s OK to make mistakes! As long as you learn from them. Fail fast, move on, and improve.

I would encourage you to do as many of these things as possible to create the right culture within your business. Always remember, innovation is not a thing you produce, it’s a cultural way of thinking. Have the right people with the behaviour and skills to enable them to look at a problem in a unique way. Only then can innovation become extraordinary again.

Joanne Scott is strategy director at Connect, which has offices in Wolverhampton and Birmingham.

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Connect Group

At Connect, we believe when you combine creativity and technology you start something. It’s what enables us to create award-winning work and generate outrageous results for our many blue chip clients. Famous names that include Bentley Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Birmingham Airport, Orion Media, Chiltern Railways, Tarmac and Goodyear Dunlop.

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