When we talk about innovation, the examples that often come to mind are of significant upheaval and disruption. Consider the way that iTunes completely changed the way we buy music, or how the first television sets in family households impacted marketing and advertising strategies. However, these disruptive innovations are far from guaranteed successes. For every Facebook, there's a Google+ and ten other platforms that never left the trial stage. Some big ideas and innovations may change the world, but there are probably more instances in which ambitious ideas fell flat.
Instead of reinventing the wheel all at once, some innovations take small steps along the way. This is the route that many innovators, inventors, and business owners choose to pursue: find inconsistencies in the current market and make improvements to an existing service. This lower-risk, less disruptive form of innovation, which arises at a much more methodical pace, is known as incremental innovation. Sandeep Kishore, writer for HCL technologies, covers the power of incremental innovation in a piece for Wired:
“These developments often started with a basic platform which provided an initial framework for additional innovations and improvements.”
While incremental innovations can be seen everywhere — Gmail, iPhones, Rustoleum NeverWet — let's take a look at the incremental innovations that facilitated the rise of one of the world’s fastest growing companies — Netflix.
Have you spent any time watching the AMC drama series Mad Men? While the show won praises for almost a decade for its acting and storyline, my fascination has been a little different: the drastic changes the field of marketing underwent during the 1960s. In many ways, the changes that occurred during Mad Men's timeline reflect the shakeup that many of us in marketing today have observed over the last few years. In large part, both changes were due to marketers trying to integrate new technologies into their strategy and practices. For the mad men of the sixties, this meant doing battle with the first computers and household television sets. In the digital age, this means determining how best to utilize social media in an ever-changing marketplace.
Since the creation of Facebook in 2004, many in our industry have worked to solve the social media marketing puzzle. First, it was adapting campaigns to Facebook, then Twitter, and now smartphones and tablets. Brands are in constant pursuit of an all-encompassing strategy that connects with customers on every platform. We all want our products, promotions, and ads front and center on whichever screen our customer is currently viewing. But, with over 27 million unique pieces of social media content posted daily, earning our share of that screen is becoming increasingly difficult.
It happens too often: a small business or startup achieves success with an innovative approach, disrupting the market and making a big name for themselves. Yet, a year later, the same business looks nearly identical to the larger, corporate counterparts that it set out to be different from.
What happened to that innovative approach?
More often than not, as companies grow and achieve success, it becomes more and more necessary for them to become segmented and even arranged into more hierarchical structures. Employee roles become more defined, and often innovation gets “assigned” to a specific team or department. Coupled with the competitive nature of corporate America, where employees jockey to hit preset benchmarks that bring them into the conversation for promotions, innovation begins to take a back seat as companies grow into a larger economic reach.
While it might have been an innovative approach that led the company to where they are, with economic success comes increasing pressure to maintain the status quo. Thus, while many companies start out as innovative, disruptive market forces, they all too often fall back into the same segmented, bureaucratic practices that stifle continued innovation.
If we want to prevent our organizations from falling into the same trap, we need to keep in mind a few important rules for preserving innovation.
We've all heard the platitude, “the best way to learn something is by doing it.” Whether that is our first day on the job or our first day on the golf course, most of us have likely been encouraged to “jump right in” at some point in our lives.
Now there’s a group of marketing professionals taking that philosophy to heart. In an attempt to forge deeper connections and grow brand influence faster than ever, marketers are creating inventive approaches that help customers not just to be exposed to a company’s brand, but to experience it in tangible ways.
An Experience You'll Never Forget
In its most basic sense, experiential marketing is defined as branding or advertising that allows marketers to really immerse consumers in a company's brand. Marketers around the globe are using this strategy in an attempt to transform their brand image from a concept into something that is concrete and real. As Karen Bannan of Adweek explains,
“In an increasingly digital world, consumers are getting a chance to touch, feel and respond to products personally, and live, face-to-face events are being used to entertain, educate and create the kind of emotional stickiness that brands crave.”
As a result, big time PR departments are creating innovative, “shock-and-awe” events that flood social media channels with chatter and generate word-of-mouth promotion as well. In fact, experiential marketing is catching on in such a big way that one of the recent SparkLabKC graduates, PopBookings, has set out to make staffing experiential events easier than ever for agencies and brand ambassadors alike by creating a mobile platform to match potential brand ambassadors to the agencies that hire them.
Given the recent explosion in experiential marketing, let's explore three examples of campaigns done well:
Since Senator Ted Cruz announced his 2016 presidential bid back in March, 20 others have tossed their hats into the ring with him. Soon, our media airways will be flooded with political ads and our neighborhoods will be filled with vibrant signs supporting the various candidates, presidential and otherwise. By that time, these candidates will have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of man hours strategically crafting both their platform and their image.
Taking a step back from all the mayhem that election season brings, it's easy to see why candidates spend so much time and money crafting what is essentially a huge marketing campaign. They want us to buy a product — them. If a candidate is going to win, he or she has to convince the most people in the country buy into their brand, their message, and, ultimately, their product.
We have all experienced less-than-ideal customer service — the grumpy waiter who ignored your table and treated you as if you were inconveniencing him by being there, or the terse ticket agent who offered no help at all after you spent hours lurching through security. Whether it’s a hounding car salesman or a two-hour wait on the phone for customer service, no one is entirely unscathed.
But if a business is smart, they understand that customer experience is just as important as their product. Think about it: many of the places we choose to frequent are the ones with which we've forged a sense of connection. The pizza place you visit on Friday evenings with your family gives you a sense of routine and shared memories. The happy hour spot after work is a consistent opportunity for you and your coworkers to blow off steam. These places make us feel welcomed, treat us like family, and probably even know our names. They're places we associate with happiness and comfort.
And when a company is especially smart, they will build this experience of connection and comfort into their business model.
The greatest marketing professionals in the game — the best of the best — all share one common trait: a great eye for trends. In the last decade, new technologies have changed the marketing world at a rapid rate, and the best marketers have been ahead of the curve in recognizing the potential to utilize these new platforms. Social media sites have allowed for an increased level of interaction between companies and their customers. Mobile technology created another engaging platform for marketers to utilize. The ever-increasing gathering of and access to “big data” has made comprehensive customer data widely available to companies and their marketing agencies alike.
Given the effect of technological advances on the marketing world, it's no surprise that many of us spend large portions of our time attempting to predict the next big technological shift. While the core principles of marketing are likely to stay the same, the best methods for applying them are rapidly changing due to the influence of new technologies on consumer's lives. In an article for Forbes, Avi Dan, founder of Avidan Strategies, explains it like this (emphasis mine),
“The fundamentals of marketing are always going to be the same, but with the landscape changing at the speed of technology, what matters most now is how one activates the fundamentals.”
This leaves us with a plethora of questions: What's the next trend? How can it be applied? Is it sustainable? What data should be studied? How applicable is this data to specific markets? Are there any definitive answers to these question right now?
I believe there are. Let's take a look at four big trends.