Tenacious and intentional, innovative companies inspire us by pushing the envelope of what is currently possible and envision the future by relentlessly challenging the status quo. We can all learn from, and emulate, their boldness.
Maybe you’re like us and can’t get enough innovation, and you’re ready to move beyond theory and get the innovation ball rolling. Here are some ideas and questions to help inspire you own marketing innovation process.
1. Define the challenge, then brainstorm novel solutions. At the recent Cincinnati Innovation Summit, Min Basadur cautioned that most people start thinking immediately in terms of solutions and not in terms of the problem. However, clearly formulating the problem up front is critical.
Take a cue from Cleveland-based Nottingham Spirk, the design firm noted for innovations from the Sherwin Williams Twist & Pour paint container to the Swiffer Sweeper Vac. These products delight customers through their properties of convenience and ease-of-use.
• What new innovation could make the product or service more convenient or easier to use?
• How can the product or service be simplified?
• Eliminating all constraints, what functions would the ideal product or service perform?
• How might we adapt the current product or service to the ideal?
2. Embrace risk. Salesforce.com has ranked #1 on Forbes’ The World’s Most Innovative Companies list for two consecutive years. Since the company’s founding, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has acquired 24 companies, including two recent acquisitions that will empower marketers with social listening technology. These acquisitions have entailed a certain degree of risk, but have also positioned Salesforce.com to meet new customer needs as they emerge.
• Which needs are most important to our customers? Conduct market research via focus groups, online bulletin boards, surveys and interviews to help flesh out this perspective.
• What gaps exist in our current product, service or platform?
• What unmet customer needs could we serve in the future?
• How might we develop our product or service to meet those needs (build versus acquire)?
3. Improvise and adapt. Herman Miller’s now iconic Aeron chair was inspired by jazz improvisation and toys and heavily influenced by the early chair designs of Eames (architectural design) and Thonet (breathable seating surface) – the core tenet here being that expanding or combining multiple ideas can stimulate new insights, designs and innovations. What resulted was a new product that revolutionized seating through comfort and style. Initially met with, Herman Miller stood behind the Aeron chair, which eventually became one of the company’s most successful products.
• What products or services do we admire and why?
• What values do we want our product or service to represent? (e.g. “Everyone in the office deserves to sit in a comfortable chair.”)
• How might our product or design be adapted to embody those values and qualities?
4. Envision the future. There is a quote often attributed to Henry Ford that says, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked me for a faster horse.” Sometimes, the best solution is the one that has not yet been conceived. Other times, existing solutions and competencies can be repurposed, such as Amazon.com leveraging its cloud computing competency in a professional services offering called EC2.
• What current solutions or capabilities can be offered as a new service or solution in the future?
• What foreseeable needs could our products or services meet in the future?
• What steps might we to take to plan ahead for those needs?
Innovative companies envision the future, develop their competencies in the direction of that vision and take risks even in the possibility of failure. As in the design of the Aeron chair, they rally corporate enthusiasm for creating insanely great products and services and then passionately stand behind their products and solutions when they know they are intuitively right. They see new possibilities in existing competencies and designs, and they stay ahead of their competition because they consistently envision their customers’ current and future needs. Innovation, in essence, flows from constant evolution: It is, in fact, the antithesis of the status quo.
Above we’ve provided some questions to challenge and inspire your own marketing innovation session. We hope you’ll let us know if you try them out.
What is your company doing to plan for and envision new opportunities and innovations?