Beware the new ideas trap

Beware the new ideas trap  teaser

Date published 20 Aug 2021

Innovation is easily promised, but rarely delivered. Mark Pinney, National Client Director for Metrix Consulting, examines why fresh thinking can often fall flat. 

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the same rings true for innovation. If your new idea or improvement doesn’t appeal to the beholder – your customers – it may well miss the mark. 

Successful innovation appeals to either the emotional or functional needs of buyers and will emerge by harnessing the brainpower of both independent and collective thought.  

The concept of fresh-thinking and novelty appeals to us all. It’s why so many companies feature innovation in their values or positioning statements. Who doesn’t want to be associated with new ideas? The lure of the unexpected or creating something that stands apart from the activities of their archrivals is high on the list for many marketers. 

But for most consumers, innovation per se isn’t a priority when they’re buying something. They simply see value in an outcome that is better, more convenient, faster, or cheaper. What does this all mean for the innovators among us? It means we need to pay attention to how we talk about innovation. 

Satisfying needs 

From a buyer’s perspective, innovation should deliver products or services that satisfy functional or emotional needs (existing or latent) in a superior way.  

Look at the impact Tangle Teezer has had on hair-brushing. Fresh thinking, when it came to the teeth of the humble hairbrush, combined with a handle-less design, has helped detangle the hair of millions the world over. Following a Dragon’s Den appearance in 2003, more than 50 million units have been sold in more than 70 countries. Not such a hare-brained idea. 

But if the purpose of innovation is simply to tick a box labelled innovation, then there’s a risk it becomes a fanciful or fashionable pursuit of marketing, rather than an outcome that is felt by meeting the needs and wants of the buyer in a better way. 

Seed and feed 

As we have seen with the likes of Uber, Amazon and Google, ground-breaking innovation can be incredibly successful in the early days at generating success with little advertising support. However, as familiarity (and often the number of substitutes) increases, marketing investment support is required to sustain and grow the business base by building an appealing and distinctive brand. 

The environment in which we surround ourselves can have an impact on the quality and success of innovation. Balancing the collective knowledge and experience of groups (whether in research, ideation or decision-making) with the clarity of individual deep-thinking investigation is important for accommodating the individual and highly personal nuances of how people work effectively. 

Accommodating the soloist and the chorus 

Companies are exploring different means of creating effective work environments for their teams, often involving re-thinking quiet spaces. Look at Google London’s library and Nestle’s “silent pods”. Employees can think and plan independently, outside of the collaborative spaces designed for teams to work together.  

Making room for individual work and decision-making is important in avoiding the risk of groupthink (the tendency for groups to avoid conflict, compromise or make sub-optimal decisions). On the other hand, we should also be wary of independent thinking that is lacking in perspective or diversity of view. As is often the way, balance is key, especially as many of us adjust to more time working away from the office. 

In this respect, a “hive” environment, where independent thought and investigation is reconvened with interrogation, critique, and lateral thought, can be helpful in supporting both forms of thinking and decision-making.  

Three ways to approach innovation: 

  1. Be clear on what constitutes innovation in the eyes of your buyers. 

  1. In rare cases, ground-breaking innovators can create their own momentum at launch. But they will still require advertising at some stage to sustain and grow.  

  1. Great innovation often comes from bold, individual thinking. Harness the power of individuals and groups within the process. 

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