How real innovation got lost in all the guff

How real innovation got lost in all the guff

Marketers need to cut through the hype surrounding innovation and make it really work for their brands, writes Joe Morgan, strategy director at brand interactions agency Matter of Form.

Innovation has been popularised and romanticised over the past few years. This has led to many using the term so freely that almost any idea, process or product is now labelled with the i-word, regardless of its application, use or demand.

Perhaps, even more frustratingly, the concept has now become so closely baked into the rhetoric surrounding technology, that despite there being more guidance on the topic than ever before - 67,333 books on the subject on Amazon and counting - it is becoming increasingly difficult to define.

So is ‘brand innovation’ just another overhyped vehicle for peddling new products and services to marketers and the masses, or is it a term with real functionality? How can we cut through the hype in order to distil what innovation really means and how it can be best realised in your organisation?

Is innovation a brand in its own right?

Arguably, innovation has become a brand in and of itself. It has developed to represent an easy ‘go-to’ statement or heuristic for those that want to communicate ‘newness’ and imagination, but not creative enough to think of any other way of describing their activities. Just by Googling the term ‘innovation agency’, there are over 65.8m results. One can’t help but feel that the tide of puffery and publicity has all gotten a bit too high and that the practice or art of innovation has been lost in all the guff.

By becoming the new brand that everyone wants to be seen with innovation is at risk of becoming stagnant. Innovation matters, because without new ideas our society will simply not evolve as we continue to recycle old philosophies. Rather than simply adopting the term as if it’s a department of their organisation, brands need to truly integrate innovative thinking from the foundations up.

The techie soap opera

With emarketer reporting that 50% of the global population will own a smartphone by the end of 2014, it is fair to say that we are becoming a tech-obsessed world as people become increasingly excited about the next ‘new thing’ and what impact it will have on their future.  This dominant ideology is leading to a new wave of thought-leaders, publishers and commentators from the tech world lavishing us with anecdotes and sparkly new ‘innovations’ that are about to change our life. In fact, so mainstream and ‘MTV-like’ has this movement become, that the popular news site TechCrunch now hosts ‘TC Cribs’, where wannabe start-up enthusiasts watch as a presenter takes a tour of various technology ‘start-ups’ offices.

To make innovation a meaningful part of the organisation in the long run, it must be baked into the brand’s purpose and the culture that it inspires

This technology-driven culture has led to the increased belief that innovation and technology are interchangeable. While new technologies can be an important outcome of certain innovative processes, it is important to remember that not all innovation necessarily involves technology.

Your brand should form the foundation of innovation

To make innovation a meaningful part of the organisation in the long run, it must be baked into the brand’s purpose and the culture that it inspires. In Apple’s recent unveiling of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch, the company only referred to the process of innovation three times. However, when he was asked about the company’s new offerings after the event, Apple CEO didn’t talk about how innovative they were, or even the people that made them; he spoke of the new ways-of-working the company had put in place in order to achieve the exciting output just presented. 

The same is true of Google. Search any number of documents, ‘About Us’ pages or press releases and you will rarely see the company refer to its products or people as innovative. The word is preserved to describe the systems and philosophies they have in place in order to consistently deliver interesting and relevant new experiences.

There is no ‘one-size-fits all’ recipe for being innovative

So to those that want ‘innovation’ to be more than just a buzzword for their company, be aware that there is no manual for success. Emulating technology companies may make for a quirky anecdote or inspiring presentation, but it takes more than some light weekend reading in bed to form a long lasting, meaningful culture of innovation within an organisation.

Successful, long-term, credible innovation starts with your brand – not just at a positioning, expression system or directional level, but at an organisational level too.  In order to properly realise this, organisations must invest in more than just brand strategy, but also a comprehensive change in management programme. It is only when the purpose and principles of a company are defined, that a focused, liberated culture of change develops and true innovation starts to grow.

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