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The secret about innovation that none of us want to reveal

Innovation is vital and it’s seductive – but how can you ensure it drives growth and your consumers buy into it?

Personally, I’m partial to a cronut and a cruffin. They’re just the right type of innovation for me. Novelty based on the familiar. I’m a big fan of Siri. It fits effortlessly into my existing paradigms around talking and multi-tasking. I’m warming to blockchain – I can relate to its implications for security and traceability to address issues from advertising transparency to proving medicines are untampered. Space X’s Big Falcon Rocket is like an adventure holiday. 3D printing is like an in-home factory. It’s all good.

But many nascent innovations pass me by. I didn’t want an e-reader until I tried a Kindle and discovered how easy it was to buy the Twilight trilogy on-the-go from Reykjavik. I’m uncertain about quantum computing. I’ve never taken exercise seriously enough to identify with a Humon Hex. And while it’s not career-enhancing to admit it, when it comes to missing the next big thing, I’m not alone.

Only 2.5% of the population is likely to be an innovator (rather than an early adopter/ majority/ laggard). Those with true foresight skills are rare, and get hampered in big organisations with millions of dollars at risk from bad investment choices. Their business cases need to be based on strong insight, put to the rest of us, and we need to grasp a clear benefit, compellingly expressed and calculated.

This is what’s missing from the innovation story in many marketers’ pursuit of the new.

The marketers I meet are bright, creative, well-versed in new technologies and trends, and data literate. However, many of them haven’t experienced real focus on the fundamental disciplines of strategic rigour, insight generation  and joined-up customer experience. It can seem academic when faced with the opportunities of data abundance, non-stop technological innovation and the pressures to move quickly and fail fast. But as soon as you try to scale sell an e-reader, a quantum computer or a Humon Hex, you need to:

Pinpoint your strategic challenge

Get beyond features to insight-driven benefits, and

Create compelling customer experiences that stand out

Two award-winning examples that deliver exactly that struck me this week:

The first, a bronze WARC award for Effective Innovation 2018, is Hearing Rescue from the Thai Health Promotion Foundation.

Two data points ignite a compelling story:

1. 100% hearing-impaired people in Thailand take their hearing aids out at night due to discomfort.
2. 35% of them said that they experienced accidents at night because they could not hear any sounds.

So they created a product worn as a hearing aid by day, and which turns into a wrist band at night. If it detects a sound louder than 60 decibels, such as a siren or fire alarm, it vibrates, waking the wearer and alerting them to danger. Crowd-funding raised $50,000 USD in 3 months, and 40,000 pre-orders followed. 98% of those who tried Hearing Rescue reported that they felt safer and could sleep without constant anxiety, and under that fact lies an insight which can help them scale.


The second is Effie award-winner Lockheed Martin’s Field Trip to Mars campaign.

The defense contractor needed to change beliefs about it being outdated, especially when compared to Elon Musk’s Space X. Lockheed Martin used creatives, technologists and data analysts to recreate 200 square miles of Mars' surface virtually, mapping it to the streets of Washington DC. They then used a school bus to create a collective virtual reality experience for local children – who could look out the windows as if roaming the Red Planet. “When the bus moved, the surface of Mars moved, and when the bus turned, we turned on Mars.”

Lockheed Martin changed how VR is experienced, shifted the Mars conversation and got noticed by the innovation and technology community. What I like about this example is its bold inventiveness of course, but beyond this, when you read the award paper, you cannot help but be impressed with the strategic pinpointing of the challenge, and the focused idea to address it.

We all crave the new and the next. We are seduced by the promises of tomorrow. But innovation relies not only on discovery and vision, but also on getting the fundamentals of our profession right.

If you’d like to find out how we can help ensure these are instilled in your team, do get in touch .

Brand Learning has a passion for building the capabilities of marketing and sales teams to drive growth through innovation, and we’ll be publishing more on this theme over coming months.


BRAND LEARNING: Creating Growth Capabilities