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Opinion

Innovation as a term has been corrupted

10 August 2015
Innovation as a term has been corrupted

Business and society holds-up innovation as one of the most important components for success today.

In the past, organisations could compete on price or quality alone. However, now that customers have increased access to goods and services, as well as more choice than ever before, emphasis is necessarily moving to efficiency, differentiation and customer experience.

Just look at gig worker start-ups like Uber, changing up the taxi world, and Gett, which promises to deliver champagne and flutes within 10 minutes: these companies receive high acclaim as innovators because of the disruption they’ve created within existing industries.

Innovation in its purest form is the introduction of new things or methods. However, this emphasis on innovation – now entrenched in Western economies – should not be followed blindly, as the pursuit of pockets of brilliance or change could negatively impact your business.

Businesses must be able to measure the value of that innovation and see its success through numbers. What is the ROI for that whitepaper? Are customers spending more as a result of that new product feature? These are common questions that marketers are used to hearing.

My argument is that while marketers are forced to fixate on a handful of granular business goals, this emphasis on discreet outcomes stifles their ability to create pure innovation.

New thinking

Innovation as a term has been corrupted - it means new thinking, but while marketers face short-term goals and constant measurement, they cannot deliver ground-breaking work that will transform a business for the long-term.

I’ve developed a new measurement framework for innovation: the process towards this innovation should be the indicator of its success.

At Squiz, we work with companies who want to transform their organisations through digitalisation.

Embarking on a digital transformation project is a rewarding, but lengthy, process, which if started on the wrong footing cannot deliver the change needed.

When fear is the trigger for a transformation process, such as when businesses see a start-up causing disruption in the market and want to respond, it will rarely lead to sustainable, ongoing innovation.

Our most successful projects involve companies that have innovation at their core - it’s not enough to just build a new website because it was a goal that your boss has set you - innovating perpetually, and fostering continued transformation by doing so.

Taking this long-term approach means that even the biggest businesses are able to compete with first-to-market start-ups. Of course immediate business goals are important to achieve, but marketers can really make their mark by embodying innovation over the long-term.

Metrics and KPIs understandably focus many marketers on the short-term. Take the example of digitising all customer touch-points; a marketer with monthly KPIs is more likely to dedicate resources to impacting ROI on existing channels than embark on a three year digital transformation project in collaboration with the IT team. However, they need to think bigger than their immediate goals, as the marketer who takes the long-term approach will be rewarded for being a strategic pillar of the business.

A sustained approach means that even the biggest businesses are able to compete with first-to-market start-ups thanks to the emphasis on ‘method’ as the measure of innovation - Forbes’ ‘Most Innovative Companies’ lists are a great embodiment of this, as they are built on principles that demonstrate innovation over time.

Consider whether your business’ structure and goal-setting means that people are more or less likely to take risks that foster innovation. Does each team have monthly targets to hit or visionary objectives? What’s the feedback loop for new approaches? Is there cross-department collaboration?

To truly impact a business, innovation must be thought of within the process – not just as an end-goal – and marketers can be the business leaders that spread the real meaning of innovation.

Stephen Morgan, MD Europe, Squiz

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