The Big Innovation Lie

Do you ever feel like you’ll never be able to invent anything new?
Whatever you can think of, you can be sure someone else out there has already thought about it. (In fact, someone out there has probably already written a very similar article to this one!)

It’s extremely difficult to be FIRST.

You have to be pretty damn lucky to be the first one to have a brainwave that sparks a genuine breakthrough or a new solution to a known problem. Whatever your cool idea is, you can bet your bottom euro that someone has already thought about it and made an effort to do it.

This can stop many innovators in their tracks. It can cause a sense of inertia and an attitude of “what’s the point?”. It can feel like everything has already been done.

Global innovation and you

But let’s think about this for a moment. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Throughout history, people strewn across the globe have solved their parallel problems through innovation – completely independently of each other. Different cultures have nurtured similar methods for harvesting, baking bread, sewing clothes, creating art, building houses. The difference in modern times is that we now know more than ever before about what other people are doing.

Even back in 1899, Charles Holland Duell – the Commissioner of US Patent office – was quoted to have said “Everything that can be invented has been invented”. True attribution or not, this appeared to be many people’s genuine belief, because society was becoming more aware of the inventions made elsewhere in the world. We now of course know that there is no end to innovation. We’ve seen millions of more inventions since. But because we hear about them faster than ever, we may sometimes feel the same way; “It’s all been done”.

Take brand names, for example.

These days, it’s so quick and easy to secure a domain name and to trademark a word. We may feel that “all the good ones are taken”. Businesses are more frequently making up nonsensical names like Zalando, Schpock and Wii.

The world of innovation is a busy place; that much is true.

And here’s why you shouldn’t care:

The biggest lie of innovation is that it’s critical to be first.

The truth is, you don’t have to be first to be successful. You don’t even have to be first to be considered an innovator. Innovation is about using a creative approach to solving a problem – and this can be done regardless of whether someone else has already found one solution that works.

The fact that someone has already invented a particular product or service means that…

  • There’s an identified market for the solution.
    If others are working on it, it means you are on the right track. There is demand, there is interest and there are opportunities out there. The same way seagulls flock to a fishing boat, innovative businesses can see where there is a potential gap in the market.
  • You can watch and learn.
    If someone else is addressing the same challenges, take a look at how they do it and learn from them. What’s working? What’s not working? What are the customers saying? How can you do it better? A great example is VHS vs Betamax. Both were great innovations. One was first. The other went on to be the standard video format for decades. Which one would you rather have invested in?
  • Someone else can pave the way for you.
    The history books are full of trailblazers who were the first to land on foreign shores. However, these were also the ones who paid the highest price. They took all the risk and often got little reward. Being first can be a huge sacrifice. Being second or third or tenth, on the other hand, means that there is already an established customer base ready for the next generation of solutions. When Sharp produced the first camera phone in 2000, they probably weren’t too upset about not having launched the very first mobile phone. Instead, their invention was built on the success of every previous mobile phone made.

Innovation is, and will continue to be, an important part of any thriving business. We need to constantly look at ways in which we can improve our customers’ experience – without worrying about whether or not someone somewhere has already beat us to it.

If you’re not first, you can still be the best – and that’s what innovation serves to do.

 

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How to beat marketing confusion – with content

Feeling confused when it comes to digital marketing? That’s completely understandable. The world of social marketing and online content has developed in such an explosive way in recent years that it’s hard for even seasoned marketing professionals to keep up!

Every month, we hear about new marketing platforms and software that are all designed to transform how we reach our audiences online. The speed of this progress can feel intimidating when you’re starting your marketing journey, but there is one very important thing you should remember.

However good these various new tools and systems are, they will always be just that: tools and systems. They will always sit on the surface of what you do, and that surface will continue to ripple and change.

Don’t even try to learn it all
Even the most successful online marketers out there today don’t claim to know it all. In fact, they are more likely to NOT know it all. Instead of trying to run their business as well as keep a close eye on the world of marketing technology, they hire people to find and implement the best solutions for them. Instead of running themselves into the ground trying to identify the best marketing tactics, they focus on their core business. They design their offering and develop their brand. They create the ocean of content that lives below the tactics.

Get the content right
It’s been said before, but I’ll happily say it again: Your marketing campaigns are only ever as good as your content. You can spend thousands on the latest automation tools, you can have all the clever targeting schemes and the premium memberships on every social platform – but if you don’t have a relevant message, you will be wasting your money.

… and don’t compromise on quality
I often speak to businesses that have a quantity-driven approach to their content marketing strategy. They are focused on publishing as many blogs, social posts, videos, images and informational documents as possible. It becomes a numbers game for them, where they argue that if they push out as much content as they possibly can, they will maximise the number of leads they can get from that content. There is of course some truth to this; it is indeed vital to be present on a number of different channels. However – there is no excuse for compromising on content quality just to populate all your communications platforms.

So how do you create the quality content that your marketing programmes deserve?

  • Check what your audience wants to read/watch
    Spend an hour in the digital shoes of your ideal customer. What content is trending in their field of interest? What articles and papers are being shared the most and what videos are getting the most views? This will give you an indication to the topics and formats that resonate the most with the people you want to reach.
  • Always aim to educate
    You may feel that an infographic or a webinar that doesn’t spell out the specific benefits of your solution is too “weak”. You may be tempted to zoom in your unique selling points and explain how great you are. However, your readers will most likely tune out. They don’t want to hear a sales message until they ask for it!The purpose of your content should be to awaken curiosity, and to provide useful information and guidance to the reader. This is what makes marketing campaigns “sticky”. If you prove yourself useful to your audience, they are more likely to stick around and listen to what you will say next. They will sign up for newsletters, tune into your podcasts and share your content with their peers.
  • Keep a finger on the pulse
    Always aim to stay relevant. If a major breakthrough has occurred in your industry or region, make sure you share your views and comments on it. If you have an analytical paper from a year ago that is no longer up to date with current events, don’t keep distributing it. You may wish to re-issue it with added information, but don’t risk being labelled as not keeping up with the times. (For blogs and news posts, you may even consider “news-jacking” relevant stories from the mainstream media if you have an interesting spin on it.)
  • Sweat the small stuff
    For the educated reader, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to make sense of a sentence laden with grammatical or spelling errors. Not to mention broken hyperlinks or missing references. At best, your reader will piece the content together and continue reading with slightly dampened enthusiasm. At worst, they will close the page and go absorb content somewhere else.
    If you have created a great piece of content, don’t allow the details to let it down. Get it proofed, get it checked and analysed – to make it the brilliant version of itself it deserves to be.

By focusing on getting your content right, you will have already won 90% of the marketing battle. Determining the right platforms and marketing tools to get the content noticed, read and shared is secondary.

So shake off the overwhelm, put on a smile and start creating some awesome content!

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“So what? It’s just a typo.”

I once applied for a job as Marketing Manager for an up-and-coming software provider. In the interview, I was really put through my paces. In military style, every aspect of my capabilities were scrutinised, questioned and battered. I came out of the room feeling slightly downcast, knowing that I had not convinced the manager that I was a good fit.

Two days later, I was offered a more senior role working for a different vendor. As expected, the other job went to someone else. However, in the application process I had signed up as a newsletter subscriber of the first company, which meant that I started receiving email updates from them a couple of months down the line. I took some interest in reading them, as I knew they would have been written – or at least approved – by the role I had applied for.

In the same vein as looking up an old school mate on Facebook, I suppose I wanted to check out how good they were and compare myself to them.

The first spelling error was in the subject line. A little bit unfortunate, but not catastrophic. It did, however, make me scan the rest of the text a bit more closely to see if there were any more mistakes. Shockingly, I found another two errors in the same newsletter, one of them being a misspelling of their own product. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit amused by this discovery!

I read the next monthly newsletter with the expectation that any quality issues would surely have been rectified by now. But embarrassingly, this issue too was riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. As was the next, and the next. It got to the point where error-spotting became a bit of a game for me. How many mistakes will there be this time – and how quickly can I find them?

Almost a year after applying for the job, I happened to be having lunch in the same restaurant as the gentleman who conducted the interview. We had a brief chat, in which I mentioned I still received their newsletters. I hesitated at first, but then asked if he was aware that not a single one had been fault-free in the last year. At this, his face went very pale. He wasn’t aware. (He obviously didn’t read them himself). As amusing as it was to me at the time, particularly as it brought me some level of vengeful pleasure, this became a vivid reminder of how important spelling and grammar can be in communications.

It only took one mistake for me to start subconsciously scanning for more mistakes, and every one of those mistakes would impact the credibility of the brand.

Rather than focusing on the content, I was spotting spelling mistakes. And rather than building a trusted brand, they were turning into a joke – while senior management were none the wiser.

I recently ran a poll in a group of entrepreneurs in my network, and 81% agreed with the statement that “Spelling and grammar mistakes cause a brand or author to lose some credibility”. 38% also stated that they felt “frustrated or annoyed” with the lack of quality that errors like these denote, while 19% of them even expressed that mistakes in written communications “could cause them to choose an alternative brand in the future”.

When it comes to social media updates, users tend to be a little bit more lenient as these are often done on the fly and without proper spell check support. But marketing emails, website copy, adverts and printed materials are the vehicles that carry your brand – which should be flawless.

My guess is that your business doesn’t quite fancy the idea of sending 19% of your prospects to your competitors. So how about investing some time in copy editing and proof reading for your next campaign?

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Why content marketing is like a baked potato in a sushi restaurant

Content marketing is an extremely powerful approach to lead generation, brand building and advocacy. So why aren’t more businesses successful at doing it? The simple answer is – in many cases – because their marketing agency isn’t providing what they need.

In a previous life, when I was working as a Marketing Manager in the tech industry, I would often take a transactional approach to buying marketing services. There would be a defined need, most commonly a lead target, and a limited timeframe in which it had to be met. And more importantly, the agency would look to me to provide the materials required, around which to build the campaigns.

This is a very common scenario across the B2B market; the agency simply becomes the delivery point for leads and opportunities.

What if we were to compare this to dining in a restaurant?
A hungry guest (the client) sits down at the table of a restaurant (the agency). The guest is now required to choose from the items specified on the menu. If sitting in a sushi restaurant, they will get a wide range of options for sushi – but they probably won’t be able to add a baked potato. (I’ve tried that one. It’s seriously frowned upon.) The options have been defined by the restaurant, to suit the majority of their customers. If the guest wants something else, they have to bring their own food in a Tupperware dish. (I know, most restaurants wouldn’t allow this. But just bear with the analogy here, OK?)

Now, imagine this. What if the waiter instead would take the guest by the hand, and lead them into the kitchen? What if the customer was allowed to speak with the chef, choosing their own favourite ingredients, seasonings, style and composition, for an epic seven course meal? My guess is that the dinner itself would be a much more satisfying experience – not to mention value for money.

We’ve found a winning recipe for content marketing by helping agencies provide more than the “set menu”. If a customer comes along with lead requirements but not much in terms of quality content, the agency has a choice. They can either build campaigns from the few bits of information available, or they can work with the client to create new content that will support their lead generation for years to come – and become a strategic partner in the process.

What will your agency choose?

 

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