Technological innovation and how to avoid it

Technological innovation and how to avoid it
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Don’t innovate.

Seriously, if you can get away without any innovative technology in your marketing, by all means do so. Marketers should use it as a last resort. This may sounds like heresy when we hear so much about it, but no one acknowledges the dark underbelly of innovation.

To understand just how abhorrent innovation really is, you need to consider the two different ways you can do it – the easy way and the hard way.

With the easy way, you take something that exists somewhere else, and repurpose it for marketing.

There are two catches with this. First, you need to be looking well outside the usual ‘research sphere’ to find an emerging technology to repurpose. This means spending a lot of time hanging around bio-technology trade shows and digital art conferences.

Then, when you find some fantastic novelty, you need to engage non-advertising partners to make it happen. That means companies that often don’t understand the timelines of ad campaigns or the foibles of CMOs. 

That may sound problematic, but it pales in comparison to the hard way. This is the real deal, where a truly new invention is born, within a piece of marketing.

Recent Australian examples would include Finch’s ‘Donation Glasses’ for the Pedigree Adoption Drive and Snepo’s ‘Fundawear’ for Durex. We saw something we’d never seen before, and we saw it in a piece of advertising. So just how bad is this ‘real’ innovation?

Think about it like this. First you have to invest significant resources well ahead of the curve. Second, this investment is high risk with no guarantee you’ll actually develop something viable. Third, there’s the struggle to protect your IP from knock-off happy competition. And finally, while most innovation pays off through scale, you’ll have difficulty getting much re-use out of your innovation in the novelty-obsessed world of advertising.

With all this doom and gloom is there ever a time when innovation is justified? Absolutely.

There are many reasons to push the limits of creative marketing through technological innovation. From invigorating a stale category to breaking through as a new entrant, from forcing brand re-evaluation to simply differentiating yourself in a cluttered market.

If you do find yourself going down this road, here’s three simple tips to minimise the pain:

– Innovate the product, not the communication. Nike+ (and Nike Fuel) is a great example of a technology innovation that has created ongoing business value.

– Make your agency do the hard work. Someone has to invest resources and  take on risk. Surely that’s the kind of reckless behaviour you pay your agency for?

– Acknowledge that technology innovation isn’t the same as everyday marketing, nor is it the same as product development (unless you’re a technology company).

So getting it right probably means treating it differently – breaking with the traditional process to create Skunkworks-style operations where innovative magic can happen.

It can be done, the proof is there for all to see. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Brett Rolfe is director of technology and innovation at Naked Communications.

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