Innovation is the buzzword of the century and, while it is laudable to want to be like Apple or Amazon, it’s hardly necessary to reinvent your industry to find success. It IS necessary to market innovation.
Why marketing innovation works.
Simply put, innovation is a creative solution to a customer problem. Big problems, little problems, everybody has them and they all need solutions. Every business is capable of this kind of innovation and most are innovating every day. They just fail to realize or act on that innovation and most importantly, they fail to market it.
Customers want more than just solutions to their problems, they want NEW solutions. They will ALWAYS want new solutions. Tide laundry detergent has been “new and improved” more than 80 times in the past 75 years. Most of those innovations were not earth shattering, but they were significant enough that Tide has maintained its dominance in its category. Look around your company. You have innovation opportunities everywhere. Solve your customers’ problems and then tell them about it. Your brand, market share, sales growth, and profit margin will all follow.
They start off all quirky and fun. Ready to take risks, to be themselves without taking themselves too seriously. Then, all of a sudden (it seems) they hit the big time and they get all serious and busyness-like. Before you know it, you hardly know them at all and you start to drift apart.
Please tell me, Mr. and Mrs. Southwest Airlines, that you won’t let this happen to you.
I remember my first Southwest experience. I’ll bet you do, too. The people were genuinely nice. Genuinely “genuine”. They sang. They told stupid jokes and very punny puns. It was so weird. I loved it. I’ve noticed recently, though, that the quirkiness is gone. Along with the perkiness. Even their advertising has taken a more serious tone.
I asked a flight attendant “Why don’t you sing anymore?” She said,”You need to write to management. They want us to stop that kind of thing. I miss it.”
I was flying cross country recently and, scrolling through my iPod for something to help pass the time, I settled on the Dixie Chicks catalog. The first three albums, that is. The ones before they forgot their mission, abandoned their fans, and destroyed their brand.
Yes, even country music singers have a brand, and just like Proctor and Gamble, McDonalds, and your local mechanic, they must protect and nurture that brand or, like the Chicks, go the way of the Dodo birds. The music in the early days was pure, simple and all about ME. I could relate to it. I, like millions of others, understood the joy, pain, irony, and humor in that early music.
After they lost their way, the music became all about THEM. Songs about how mad they were, about how sad they were. All about THEM.
This is why you can only hear the Dixie Chicks on your iPod now and why there will never be another Dixie Chicks album that matters. It is not because they said something stupid in England. It is because they forgot why we liked them in the first place. They forgot their brand.
Albert Einstein once said, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Steve Jobs took those words to heart. Every innovation he envisioned was at first considered absurd, undoable, and generally far-fetched.
Lesson One: If the idea is right and you know it, it doesn’t matter if everyone thinks it is absurd.
When he conceived the idea for The Apple Store, he took it to his board…all smart, successful people who had witnessed his magic first hand…the immediate response was ‘no way’. Gateway was closing stores left and right and no other computer manufacturer had been able to succeed at retail. The Apple Store is now the most successful retail concept in history. More sales per square foot, more sales per store, more profit, than any other retail store selling anything.
Lesson Two: He never took no for an answer.
iPod and iTunes revolutionized and saved the music industry. As brilliant and beautifully simple as the iPod was, it was just a music player with iTunes. And iTunes would be nothing without the consent of the music industry. One by one, Steve personally visited every major music publisher. One by one, he convinced them to give the iTunes model a try. He hoped to sell one million songs in six months. He sold one million in six days. Even in the light of that early success, there were holdouts. Most notably, the Beatles. He never gave up and in 2011, the Beatles joined iTunes.
Lesson Three: Never stop selling.
Steve Jobs was not just a genius, not just a visionary. There are many geniuses in the world who are unknown and have contributed little to our world. Jobs was different. He was a salesman. A Master Salesman. He believed in his product. He believed in its value. He believed he could help people if he could just help them understand. He kept working until they understood.
This, I believe is the real genius of Steve Jobs. He was smart enough to realize that all good ideas must be sold. And the best ideas have to be sold more.
What I’ve learned from Steve Jobs, so far…Never never never stop selling.
For more evidence that the creative well is running dry in this country, you need look no further than prime time TV. Seriously. And I’m not talking about the countless hours of mindless “reality” programming that have nothing to do with reality. Really. No, I refer to high quality shows that should know better. Two words…really and seriously. I defy you to find a single episode that doesn’t include one or both of these overused, unimaginative, rejoinders. The Closer, Last Man Standing, I even saw it used in a 2004 episode of Deadwood. Really. Apparently this downward spiral started right after Wild Bill Hickock was killed in 1876.
You’ve got to be kidding me? (aka Seriously?). No sh#@! (aka Really!). Somewhere along the way we lost cool, neat, darn straight, hell yeah, what the?, and peachy keen. And maybe we should have. But is really, seriously? the best you got? My college english professor once told me to never use “etc.”. He said it means you can’t think of anything else to say. I think of that a lot when I watch TV. Really. Seriously. It’s time for something new.
The trade show. The bane of every manufacturer’s existence. Exhibits, travel, expensive dinners, sales meetings, more expensive dinners. To go or not to go. What will the competition do this year? There are thousands of articles detailing the finer points of show business. This one asks just one question? Why do you go?
You can spend tens, even hundreds of thousands on the latest hardware, state-of-the-art technology, giveaways, and more but we submit that none of it will matter if you don’t know why you are there. A new client several years ago said they were getting ready for the “big” show. When asked why, the deer in the headlights answer was: “We always go to this show. Everybody (in our industry) goes to this show.” We said, “why not give your customers a reason to come by the booth and a reason to place orders during the show?” The result: They sold more product at that one show than in the previous 8 shows combined.
Before you go to the next show, make a plan. Sell product, hire reps, get some free press, introduce a new product, kick off a promotion…all of the above. Make it specific and make it measureable. When you get back home, assess your performance versus your goals. It will make the decision about next year’s show a lot easier.
Might even make it easier to order that last bottle of wine on the last night of the show.
You know the stories of the great innovators. Amazon, Apple, Google are the superstar innovation companies of the day. Their stocks, their sales, their margins, their profits, and their brands all reflect the benefits of innovation. But what happens if you DON’T innovate?
You wake up one day and you are closing 120 stores. You are Sears.
Sears used to be a great innovator. The mail order catalog. The money-back guarantee. The best tools on the planet. What have they innovated lately? They put blue shirts on their tires guys and called them The Blue Team. (For the record, that is NOT innovation.)
Sears stopped investing in innovation many years ago. Their competition didn’t. Today they are paying the price.
There’s an ad agency in Michigan that has adopted the tagline “Mutate or die!”. The owner (a friend of mine) reasons that the world is changing, his clients have to change too or they will be out of business.
The truth is, the world is changing because of the innovators. That is true today. It was true when the first cave man turned a rock into a wheel. It will always be true. Only innovating is innovating.
The answer to the question:
Innovate or become irrelevant.
Here’s a formula for creative thinking from Tom Monahan, former ad agency owner, Creative Director, heavy thinker, and consultant. Tom says that great ideas don’t come from creative people, they come from Creative Thinking. He outlines three steps to stimulate creative thinking and generate more ideas faster.
1. Ask a BETTER QUESTION….Don’t just ask the obvious questions, pose the “what if” and “why not” questions. What if this product didn’t exist? What if it were blue instead of green? Why not sell to women?
2. Work FAST….100 MPH
3. 180 degree thinking.