Innovation Fixation

What's the point of innovating when we don't reap tangible rewards?

By Paris Vrettakos, Strategy Manager 

We, as humans are naturally inclined to move forward. We make things, break things, put them back together or stack them in a different order. The marketing industry is no different in the way it operates. We, as marketers, are in love with the next new thing; we are obsessing over novel ways of exploring untapped audiences. We are driven by the notion of penetrating new markets, we get excited by advancements in technology and delighted by its potential applications in our craft.

In short, we are obsessed by innovation. But what is innovation exactly? And why is pretty much every client brief we receive peppered with this word? Why is it so important to marketing directors and why do we, as agency folk, strive to be recognised for it by winning awards?

Our role as agencies is directly linked to solving problems. We take on business challenges and we tackle them through marketing solutions. What I find troubling though, is that the need of marketers to innovate doesn’t always stem from the necessity to address consumers’ needs or desires. No one ever woke up one day and said “you know what, I could really do with an engaging VR experience to bring me closer to a brand”. So why do we keep seeing brands pouring millions of pounds on stuff that do very little for their growth? Don’t get me wrong, I love shiny new things as much as the next marketer, but only if that shiny new thing serves a genuine purpose. Innovation is not a box-ticking exercise. It has to be ingrained in the culture of a brand. Burberry is a brand that does this really well. It created a digital culture and built the luxury aspect of the brand around it. From livestreamed, instantly shoppable runway looks, to seamless tech product integration (e.g. a fashion show shot on iPhones) and product personalisation, it transformed an entire industry.

But innovation needn’t come exclusively from the use of technology. In fact, the digitisation of every aspect of daily life has left some feeling uncomfortable at the very least, riddled with anxiety in some more severe cases. Social media has not helped the situation. When one is expected to be contactable at all times via a broad range of platforms, it leaves little time for the mind to switch off, to simply be.

We are seeing an increasing number of solutions become available to get off the grid. Some clever people have built legitimate business models out of this. Take Yondr for example, a company that promises to help us experience big events like weddings without the compulsive need to reach for our phones; to truly be in the moment. Its founder has created cases in which guests lock their mobile devices at the start of the event because, as he puts it “if you haven’t been to a phone-free show, you just don’t know what you’re missing […] there is something about living in real life that can’t be replicated”. Other brands have taken a cheekier approach to activating this insight; KFC recently unveiled its Internet Escape Pod (no joke, look it up, it’s nuts), a metal cage which promises to fit you, some of your mates and a family bucket of fried chicken (I’ve seen better links to product) and leave out Wi-Fi and mobile signal.

We must keep reminding ourselves that innovation isn’t a synonym for digital; in fact, traditional media have found their second wind in recent years, with TV looking beyond spot advertising and print publishers having diversified their offering by putting on events that harness the equity of their brand and offer a more immersive and meaningful experience.

Clayton M. Christensen Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School puts the concept of innovation into an interesting perspective with his “Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory”: companies may know a lot about the identifying attributes of their customers but they don’t fully understand what drives their customers to buy what they’re selling. In other words, if you don’t know why your audience is buying your product, which aspect of your brand – and by extension your comms – are you supposed to innovate?

At UM we pride ourselves in pushing the envelope when it comes to new ideas. We do this by deciphering an often chaotic and fragmented media landscape, by adapting an ever-evolving business model and by not being afraid to sound the “bullshit klaxon” when we come across shiny, new things with no reason for existing other than being shiny and new. We do all the above by asking: what matters most to the consumer?

Only when we put the consumer at the heart of innovation can we expect that innovation to pay dividends. Because what’s the point in innovating when we don’t reap tangible rewards?