It’s the best of times and the worst of times to be a marketer. We have access to infinite amounts of data and a fantastic number of ways to communicate our messages to our target audience. We are also being challenged to reduce costs and yet deliver faster and more efficiently than ever before. This article explores the impact these apparently conflicting demands have on the way that we innovate.
In recent research carried out by The Brandgym among more than 100 senior marketers across multiple sectors and countries, 69% agreed that innovation had increased in importance as a growth driver over the past three years, while 72% agreed that cost-cutting had also increased in importance.
This is the challenge of the "innovation squeeze"; how to innovate more effectively with fewer resources.
The research identified three main barriers that are preventing businesses from adapting to this new challenge.
Lengthy and rigid processes
Almost 40% of our respondents said getting from the start of an innovation project to business approval (not even launch) takes a year or longer. More than 70% identified long internal processes and high minimum revenue targets as their biggest frustrations. And, despite all the talk of "agile" marketing, only 50% rapidly explore rough ideas to test and learn, with many citing limited budgets to create and explore.
Reliance on slow and expensive quantitative research
Most of the marketers that we researched were still reliant on conventional pre-market quantitative screening that typically requires £100K-plus and around 12 weeks for a full concept and product test. In contrast, only a minority leverage consumer immersion and ethnography, despite identifying these as highly effective forms of "insight fuel".
Lack of confidence in the pitch
Marketers’ ability to "pitch" innovation ideas to senior management was confirmed as important by 94% of respondents, but only 6% rated themselves as very effective at this critical skill. The need to make growth cases more convincing is confirmed by McKinsey & Company research. This found that 45% of chief financial officers said marketing proposals had been declined or not fully funded because they did not demonstrate "a clear line to value".
All of this paints a picture of a broken innovation system. No wonder that many larger brands are being out-innovated by smaller insurgent brands that are leading the way in leveraging new digital sources of insight, testing and learning at speed and pitching professionally for the resources that they require for a successful launch.
This three-point action plan should help to develop a new faster, cheaper and more agile approach to innovation.
Challenge your innovation process
Take a long hard look at your innovation process and identify where you can remove both cost and time. Too many pieces of research, approval loops and review meetings build up over time and need to be pruned back hard to free up the most important work. The Brandgym’s "rocketing" approach identifies four critical stages (insight, ideas, test & learn, pitch) that can be completed in as quickly as four weeks with the right team, mindset and sponsorship.
The world of research is going through an incredible renaissance at the moment. Many of the slow and expensive legacy methodologies are being superseded by much faster, more affordable and more insightful digital approaches. Rather than using the familiar and trusted as a crutch to support a project through the business, marketers should adopt the new and surprise their businesses with the freshness of insight and the improved speed and cost effectiveness. For example, try Zappi for overnight concept exploration, Streetbees for mobile phone video ethnography, Discover.ai for artificial intelligence-enabled cultural analysis and System1 for quick and cost-effective multi-country concept validation.
Perfect the pitch
Marketers need to raise their game when pitching innovation ideas to management, combining business savviness with inspiration to win approval fast, saving time and money. Teams should be encouraged to abandon the traditional PowerPoint deck and focus on more immersive storytelling, including single-page business cases with dynamic assumptions that can be remodelled in real time, product and pack mock-ups, videos of real consumer experience and live in-store and online exploration to check relative pricing, ease of range navigation etc.
The challenge of the innovation squeeze is real. The winners will be those that learn to innovate faster and cheaper. What a great opportunity to throw off the shackles of outdated legacy processes and develop a fresh new approach that will energise your project teams and deliver great results for both the business and your customers.
Jon Goldstone is global managing partner at The Brandgym