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What are SMART innovations?

How can businesses continue growing, at least as fast as their competitors? These are undoubtedly amongst the main challenges of the remarkable year 2020 has become.

What are SMART innovations?

It’s mainly larger and older organizations that struggle with this issue: they can’t keep up with their competitors, especially startups or other challengers that are more agile and less burdened by their legacy, and who strive to embrace new opportunities to disrupt the big players. To name just a few of the most famous ones: HelloFresh, Uber, Spotify and Netflix are all relatively new entrants in the market, and have managed to claim their market share and even change the market dynamics.

Innovation should be a firmly rooted tree

When looking in depth at these challenges, most organizations come up with the same solution: innovation. “We should innovate as our challengers do, come up with new technologies and new business processes, and those will bring us back on top of the game.” This may well be a correct analysis, but this is no guarantee for future success. I have seen too many organizations embarking on projects that were doomed to fail, because their only mission was to get started on innovation.

Don’t hide behind your tree

Innovation should not be the ultimate purpose, but rather the ideal means to introduce impactful change into the organization and its activities. Innovation should not be a tree you can hide behind, while pointing at it: “Look, we have been busy innovating, so we are on the right track.” Instead of hiding behind this tree called Innovation, you should ensure that the tree is firmly rooted within your organization, in its culture and strategy, empowered by the company’s mission statement. Your innovation tree should grow with the same DNA as that of your organization.

Always start from your own strengths and core values if you are genuinely determined to make innovation work. It sounds like a good idea to reshape your organization from a mere product manufacturer into a provider of value-added services, but it would be a bad idea to turn away from your core activities as part of your innovation project. A smartphone manufacturer that innovates itself into a furniture provider will have difficulty in making this innovation work. A lens manufacturer, on the other hand, that manages to add augmented reality, allowing users for example to call in real time, is far more likely to succeed.

Trees should be solidly rooted in firm soil

Innovation is not something you can just add to the equation. The tree should have solid roots in firm soil. If you truly want to become an innovative organization, you need to build your innovation capabilities on 4 pillars:

  1. Get your teams to embrace the vision behind innovation
    Employees need to fully grasp the ‘why’ behind the intended change, how it will benefit the organization, their department, themselves and the customer. When their contribution makes sense to them as individuals, their buy-in is guaranteed.
  2. Ensure role modeling by senior leadership
    Senior leaders need to ‘walk the talk’ if they want to inspire, motivate and engage employees. They should bring the vision to life and be fully supportive. By simultaneously collaborating with change agents the vision can be reinforced and help drive the change.
  3. Make sure employees have the right skills to make it happen
    Bridge the skills gap by training, recruiting or investing in new collaborations. Make sure that employees can adapt the new vision to their individual situation.
  4. Enable a customer-centric organization
    Create the right processes, use the right systems and tools to stimulate the desired behavior. Provide KPIs and targets to the goals that are set.

If you manage to get these 4 pillars right, your journey towards innovation is far more likely to succeed.

With a little help

Easier said than done, you might think. And with reason: it takes quite a lot of organization, experience and stamina to embark on the innovation journey and to stay on the right track.

Yet the effort organizations put into this and how they achieve disruptive or incremental growth differs from one organization to the other. Some treat the journey as one-off events, some set up a full blown ‘innovation program’, while others apply the 70/20/10% rule. Whatever the percentage, you should aim to find a balance between the needs of today (horizon 1), the future state of your business (horizon 3) and the steps that you need to take to get there (horizon 2).

As for our clients, we see that they struggle with innovation in many different moments of the process: organizations lack a qualitative and recurrent inflow of ideas, there is a gap between the aspirations of executives to innovate and their ability to execute, the delivery of prototypes is slow, the go-to-market is not set-up for the successful scaling of ideas, …

That’s why at The House of Marketing we believe marketers have an essential role to play in innovation journeys as they represent the customer in the organization. Therefore, marketers should embrace SMART innovation as a skillset:

Sustainable growth: every innovation strategy should have sustainable growth as an ultimate objective. Short-term benefits and quick wins are allowed, of course, but should not sidetrack you from this long-term destination.

Measurable business impact: for your innovations to be successful, you need to quantify your business objectives and continuously analyze your results.

Agile: implement an agile development method, like SCRUM, to prepare your innovations. In addition to those short development cycles, make sure you collect extensive business user feedback within the organization.

Relevant: above all, you want to remain relevant to your customer. This means you should think in a customer-centric way in everything you do. Always keep the customers’ interest at heart and keep informed on what matters to them. This is where the importance of data emerges: the more you know about your customer, the better you will succeed in remaining relevant.

Teamwork builds capabilities: marketers should use their knowledge and skills to build capabilities internally in a pragmatic, hands-on way. In order to make innovation work, your team should have an entrepreneurial mentality.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch to discuss how we can help you to create your journey to innovation. You will soon realize that’s the SMART thing to do.