Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The only way for brands to succeed and survive today is to adapt to the speed of culture. Innovation is central to this ambition, and every marketer dreams of pulling it off. But innovation is a bit like going to heaven – everybody wants to go, but nobody wants to die.

This is not to say that the journey of innovation is as terrifying as death, but there are certainly challenges along the way. These need to be spotted early and resolved upfront so that innovation becomes a journey of growth and success rather than frustration and stillborn initiatives.

Innovation needs more than marketing. It’s nearly impossible to pull off innovation in the field of marketing without the processes of product development, distribution, technology and pricing strategy – which is all fine when considering that these all fall within the old “five Ps” of marketing.

However, the unfortunate reality is that the only P left in the marketing domain is that of promotion. All the others have been apportioned to other divisions within companies – operations, finance, information technology, production and strategy.

This means that in most organisations, where marketing does not sit at the centre of the company and how it operates, marketers’ ability to innovate is highly dependent on how well they are able to rally these other departments and leaders behind their cause. This requires plenty of motivation, collaboration and, most of all, alignment of ambition. Without aligned ambition across these functions, pulling off innovation in the world of marketing becomes almost impossible. 

Innovation also means being prepared to be wrong. While innovation is not equal to failure, marketers need to be prepared for failure. With innovation comes reward, but also risk – and the extent to which companies embrace failure is a key indicator of the likelihood of an innovation strategy succeeding.

Many organisational measures are based on output rather than learning. This means that sales are measured year on year, and profits and guaranteed growth are key drivers – but anything that gets in the way is treated with scepticism. At the end of the day, what gets measured, gets done.

It’s key to understand how, and if, innovation is measured and rewarded within the company. A very clever man at Unilever once allocated 10% of marketing budget towards innovation, with no sales measured against this budget. Only the creativity of the activities and the learnings were measured, freeing up marketers from the fear of being measured against criteria that promote same-same versus new.

Another prerequisite for innovation is speed. A good plan today is better than the perfect one tomorrow. When it comes to innovation, speed is key. This means shortcuts, flat team structures, strong intuition and a considered disregard for many of the checks and balances that deliver predictable performance for companies across the world, but very little new and exciting outcomes. For the marketer operating in the new economy, action is your best friend – time kills deals and the same applies to innovation.

The big take-out: An adman’s advice to marketers on how to ensure brands succeed and survive is to share ideas early, share them wide, get the right partners on board, make sure you are measured on the right criteria and then take swift action. 

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