I was at the 2018 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this February, an event of overwhelming size and scale. Everyone there wanted to talk about the same thing: the new and the disruptive. Topics from 5G to autonomous tech were all the rage, and attendees were thirsty for wisdom on how to develop and maintain innovative organizations.
This focus on innovation is not new, but it does lead to questions of clarity. Innovation is not always about creating something new. Sometimes, it’s about ensuring that current offerings evolve to meet the changing needs of the audience.
In a world where innovation takes center stage, executives have a secret weapon: the innovation portfolio. For the unfamiliar, an innovation portfolio is like a financial portfolio — disparate assets combined under a single banner, balanced by the risk tolerance of the person invested.
In one study from Deloitte, researchers argued that companies should focus on five core management areas: talent, integration, funding, pipeline management and metrics. The ideal balance differs by industry, but one thing is clear — companies that actively manage their innovation portfolios have a clearer grasp of their goals for innovating. And marketers have the potential to wield this secret weapon in a way that brings innovation to the company's masthead.
The Power of an Innovation Portfolio
At many companies, innovation struggles find its meaning and foothold. Risks may be encouraged, but rarely are they monitored or tracked. For leading managers, however, this chaos presents an exciting challenge. By learning how to manage innovation as an integrated system within portfolio goals, leaders can harness the power of disruption and turn it into a reliable growth driver. That deliberate focus on innovation empowers companies to clarify their focus and priorities.
Marketers in this scenario shine a light on innovations in progress and help them gain traction with customers, partners and influencers. The outside world doesn’t need to know everything, but with a few glimpses, positioning studies and other pre-release work, marketers can position new offerings for success. This also ensures the company does not appear to be a copycat if a competitor launches first. The key is to promote the innovative aspects of the solution, positioning the company as a market leader, disruptive challenger, or inventor of a whole new space.
Marketing of innovation isn’t all about hype, though. Marketers who overpromise usually damage the reputation of their brand. To combat this, companies can keep things transparent through roadmaps, demos and case studies that demonstrate the reality of their progress.
Innovation is best promoted by the teams working on it, so marketers should use their positions as communicators to give voices to the designers closest to the innovations. Technical people familiar with the ins and outs can speak on forums and through technical papers, while marketers can create the necessary platforms, outlets and edits.
The marketing-led approach isn’t always the right one, but marketers should not relegate themselves to supplementary roles in the context of innovation. They have the power to generate buzz, position their brand as a market leader, and ensure innovation translates to sustained success.
To generate excitement for an innovation portfolio and bring your company's disruptive efforts to the forefront of its brand, follow these three tips:
1. Set Up Innovation Days With Customers
Create a proactive presentation that encompasses your entire innovation portfolio. When we do this, we call our biggest clients and map out what we currently provide, then move that conversation to discuss what the client might need from us later. This sets the stage with familiarity and gets them excited for what’s to come.
Sneak peeks into innovations behind the scenes are not designed to get the audience interested in specific projects, though. The conversation should prove to the audience that the company is dedicated to staying at the front of its industry. These opportunities also help develop better relationships — 95 percent of people agree that face-to-face meetings are vital to good partnerships.
At our innovation days, we don’t just talk about what we can provide. We keep the conversation centered around the customers, so they see how the innovations at our organization impact them. Their strategic roadmaps dictate how we can facilitate their goals, so our presentation focuses on flexibility and collaborative innovation.
These innovation days have had a huge impact for us, with conversations leading to talks about the future instead of the present, opening doors to new opportunities.
2. Create Multiple Thought Leadership Strategies
Thought leadership means different things in different industries. For some, it’s joint research with leading universities and partners. For others, it’s a presence on forums or articles published on niche websites. Some companies do all that and more.
The key is to get in front of your audience members and get them excited about the innovative capabilities of the company. Show them where the company is headed and what their part in that transformation will be.
Thought leadership is more important than ever, with media outlets like the New York Times and cable news stations enjoying a period of growth unprecedented in the internet era. Journalists prefer brands that understand the target audiences of their publications, so do some research before pitching thought leadership to every publication on the web.
3. Find Partners For Joint Solutions
As you establish a position of thought leadership, you should engage with other thought leaders to build joint assets or collaborate on shared innovation promotion. No matter how big your brand, your voice only carries so much weight on its own. When you have a credible partner beside you, you can boost the range of interest in your innovation portfolio and increase the impact of your marketing.
Don’t be afraid to work with others — show them that your company understands its role in the industry and is leading the innovative charge. The automotive industry offers several examples of successful partnerships. Ford has invested in multiple startups, including Argo and Velodyne, working with innovative partners to fast-track new technologies to put in its vehicles.
In our partnerships, we focus on some of the hottest trending areas in technology, like AI, cybersecurity, blockchain and data protection. The more niche the focus of the potential partner, the more interested we are because those highly specific fields provide opportunities for immense gains in innovation. The best companies don’t have to come up with brand new ideas no one has ever considered — they just need to develop solutions for relevant business problems.
Marketing leaders must realize the power they hold over innovation within their companies. They can weave discrete developments into a holistic story, positioning innovations in a way that shows the world that the company deserves respect for its forward-thinking philosophy. Those innovations don’t have to be cool or out of this world — they just need to be relevant and meaningful.
The more responsive a company becomes to evolving needs in its industry, the more it learns to build frameworks and processes that shepherd new innovations from idea to reality. Marketers play a huge role in pulling these things together and bringing them to the forefront of the company message. As innovations continue to separate market leaders from also-rans, the marketers who position their organizations in the best light will be the ones who lead the most prosperous companies.
About Ranjita Ghosh
Ranjita Ghosh leads global marketing and positioning strategy for AI, innovation and crowdsourcing ecosystems at Wipro Limited, among other company endeavors. The views expressed in this article are Ranjita's; her employer does not subscribe to the substance or veracity of Ranjita's views.
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