Marketing innovation: innovate don’t imitate

Companies must constantly innovate. Without innovations they tend to do what they’ve always done and run the risk of getting stale and becoming competitively disadvantaged - Blanchard & Hutson, 2007

Innovation – an improvement, advancement or originality is formally defined as ‘something newly introduced’.  It is a popular term – when googled it reveals more than 1 billion hits.

Why is innovation important to business?

Although some may regard imitation as the sincerest form of flattery, in creating value for your clients, from a strategic marketing perspective it is imperative to differentiate your products from competitors. This particularly applies in growth industries where imitation is rife (think commodities) and for mature products where innovation can breathe new life into the product and extend its life cycle (such as the new versions of Coke).

Innovation – it’s not just product development

Innovation does not necessarily mean a new product. Doing things in a new, surprising or unusual way can apply to every aspect of the business – and include creating unique customer experiences, systems and marketing. Gary Hamel, world renowned business thinker has said that business concept innovation, the capacity to reconceive existing business models in ways that ‘create new value for customers, rude surprises for competitor and new wealth for investors,’ will be the defining competitive advantage.

Now is the time to innovate

Tough economic times force companies to innovate, as they review processes and systems, seeking refinements for cost savings and greater profits.

If not already, such reviews can be integrated into the regular management processes to foster an innovative organisational culture.

For product innovation, research has shown that larger businesses investing in R&D during downturns have outpaced their competitors in the good times. Products such as the iPod and nylon were developed during hard times, the latter during the Depression.

How to Innovate

Recently HBR proposed that essential to innovation was leadership combining both left and right brain skills – the rational and logical with the imaginative and the perceptual.
It was claimed that innovation required teamwork, like a marriage, combining the commercial as well as the creative aspect.

Considering the traits of your staff and indeed your own as the leader of your business, and creating optimal combinations can nurture innovation. As a leader, if you know you are dominant on one side of the brain, perhaps outsource assistance from professionals who can provide input from the other side of brain.

If you have sufficiently large team, for particular projects, identifying ideal pairings of staff to optimally combine both left and right brain traits can foster innovation.

Some innovative partnerships

It is interesting to consider the many successful partnerships which have combined the creative with the commercial. These include:

Richard Branson & Brett Godfrey – Virgin Blue

Coco Chanel & Pierre Wertherimer – Chanel (Wertherimer, commercial; Chanel- the creative)

David Packard & Bill Hewlett – Hewlett Packard (Packard, administrative, commercial; Hewelett – technical, creative)

This month, why not establish processes to examine aspects of your business. What can be done differently to reap a better return? If your product is undifferentiated what attributes can you change or add to make it unique? What can you change or add to the experience?

As Tom Peters said some years ago: “Whatever made you successful in the past won’t in the future..”

Its time to innovate not imitate!


Anne Sorensen is Director of Marketing Is Us, a specialist strategy marketing consultancy dedicated to facilitating business growth by providing strategic marketing solutions. She holds a Bachelor of Business (Marketing), MBA and is a Certified Practising Marketer with the Australian Marketing Institute. E:




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