Meaningful marketing What the heck is innovation, anyway? By Stacy Westbrook

Aug 05, 2016

Think about that friend who fills your social feeds with “epic” tales—their brunch outing, the art show they went to last night, the sunset they witnessed while walking the dog, and on and on. They use the term to the point of meaninglessness. When everything is epic, nothing is epic.

And when everything is innovative, nothing seems innovative.

The trouble with innovation is that we’ve watered down the concept so much that we’re not sure what it means; we just “know it when we see it.”

People are obsessed with the new and different, and as marketers we’re a bit responsible for building that juggernaut of shiny object syndrome that blinds us to the true meaning of innovation.

Too often, the only innovations we see are disruptive ones. The game changers. Tesla cars, iPhones, the Internet of Things, the Mars Rover. It’s like home runs in baseball: Home runs are electrifying, but it’s stringing together base hits that wins ball games. Both take hard work, practice and dedication. But one is fireworks and the other is humdrum. As a society, we’re hooked on fireworks.

Innovation is about vision and hard work. It’s the ability to see a different future combined with the discipline and drive to make it happen. It’s every small step that leads to a giant leap.

Innovation is not creativity.

By making innovation such a holy grail we’ve excused most people from engaging in innovation every day. Because we only look out for the game changers, we don’t notice innovation’s quieter forms.

Innovation comes from lateral thinking; connecting the dots nobody else sees; following a curiosity and a hunch; bringing together expertise, experience, empathy and excitement to create change. It takes perseverance, patience and practice to match insights with ideas and bring something new to life.

Innovation is not only connecting the dots, it’s doing something about it. At AHA, we bring our creativity to bear in the connections we see, our curiosity about the world, our incisive thinking and our focus on crafting meaningful solutions for real people.

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

—Thomas Edison

Innovation is not technology.

The world has been transformed by the technological gold rush. It’s happening so rapidly that it seems the only way to innovate is through some kind of technological advance. We lionize the high-tech startup founder, worship at the altar of Apple and Google and wait impatiently to get the Next Big Thing in our hands.

Language was once an innovation. So were the wheel, building permanent structures and traveling by sea. It took that first mud hut to get us to the smart house, that rough wheel to bring us a Tesla, navigating the oceans by the stars to launch us into space.

I’m not a technologist or a developer—or even good at math—but I shouldn’t be excluded from being an innovator, and neither should you. Technology is a tool, not a solution.

Innovation is how you solve the problem, not the tools you use to do it.

Innovation is the hard work of making the big idea a reality.

When John F. Kennedy declared we would send a man to the moon, that audacious statement alone wasn’t innovative. Anyone can have a big idea and make a bold statement. Someone has to do the hard work of making that idea real.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by everything that goes into making a change, from shifting your business strategy to building a new website. It’s easy not to start at all. Innovation is having a vision for where you’re going and getting the support to see it through. You need to share your vision, build trust, gain momentum, prove value and evolve. And you can’t do it alone.

This is where a good agency partner comes in. It’s our job to understand the hard work required to make ideas happen, then get it done. We’re experts at asking questions, digging in, seeing new connections and getting to the heart of what people need.

We find those opportunities for innovation and act on them, tirelessly, every day.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

—President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, at Rice University

Big can be small.

Not every innovation has to be a giant leap, but it does need to solve a real problem for real people. At its most basic, innovation is doing something in a new way. Remember, base hits win ball games, and small innovations add up.

Sometimes innovation starts with a simple process change, such as how marketing and sales teams communicate and partner on programs. Maybe it starts with a weekly email that leads to creating useful sales tools and grows into a comprehensive customer engagement program. It could be a focused brand message that aligns your organization, which leads to an employee engagement campaign, which drives a change in brand perception and builds your business.

Along the way you have opportunities to gain insights, engage internal and external audiences, use new technologies and, ultimately, increase revenue.

Every small innovation can lead to a much bigger one, and it’s by connecting these dots that we see new, larger patterns to act on.

What’s an aglet? Well, try lacing shoes without something on the end of your shoelaces sometime.

Innovation is now.

You’ve already started innovating. You’ve done your homework, you know what your business needs and you have a vision for a different future that will have a lasting impact. One email, one website, one campaign, one internal alignment meeting at a time, you’re gaining traction toward your goals.

But let’s face it, bringing change into a large organization can be hard. You have a lot on the line, many people to convince and ROI to prove. You’re not building a Field of Dreams. You’re launching a content marketing program that is relevant and valuable. You’re building an app for prospects that engages and empowers. You need a partner in your corner to support your efforts and get things done.

Creative agencies are every client’s partner in innovation. We thrive on big, thorny problems. We love wild, challenging ideas. And we know how to do the hard work of making ideas real, with solutions founded on insight and grounded in strategy. Not enough time? No insights to fuel your ideas? Don’t feel like you can make a difference? Don’t have the support to act on an idea? We can help with that.

Our expertise and experience is in seeing the dots and making the connections that bring your audiences closer to things that matter most. Every move forward builds momentum toward your vision.

Let’s innovate together, one small step at a time.

Stacy Westbrook

Stacy is a connector of dots. She explores a new perspective in basically everything that she touches.

More from Stacy Westbrook:

What the heck is innovation anyway?

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