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 “un-lop” lopsided marketing

Do you know what the biggest threat to an organisation’s content marketing success is? It’s not the lack of budget or resources. It’s not corporate culture. It’s not even legacy systems.

It’s a little thing called afterthought.

The two faces of marketing

Content marketing is a double sided machine. One side will never reach its full potential without the other to complement it. It is impossible to realise a true return on investment on either one without managing the two in tandem.

Yet, surprisingly many organisations will spend the majority of their budgets developing and refining one of the sides – to the point where its counterpart becomes an expensive afterthought.

So what are these two aspects?

blog_twosidesThe content marketing process is based on a perfect balance between strategy and execution; between engine and fuel; between content and tactics. One is simply not effective without the other.

However, it’s easy to become blinded by the investment into either of these areas. A business that has poured thousands of pounds into a sparkling new website and accompanying CRM system may struggle to justify spending an equal amount on professional content creation to generate customer engagement.

Likewise, another business may have built an impressive library of strategically aligned content – without establishing the necessary systems and platforms for putting that content into the hands of their prospects.

In either scenario, some of the actual investment is wasted.

Merging the two

Regardless of the scale of the marketing plan, addressing this afterthought issue is simple. Incredibly simple. In fact, it’s all about simplicity.

Let’s face it: You don’t want anything to sit between your business objectives and your actual marketing results. So the important thing is to make the connection between the two as clear as possible. And the best way to do this is to build a simple mini workflow of content and execution that starts adding value to the business, as you gradually continue to develop both sides of your machinery.

By starting small you will be able to see the direct correlation between the two – and you won’t need to face the dreaded afterthought!

How to run a smooth marketing machine

Whether you work with a full service agency or manage your activities in-house, it’s critical to take control of this marketing see-saw. Resist the urge to be so dazzled by automation systems that you neglect to also create the messaging which will successfully use those systems to engage with your audience!

Ensure that your contracted agencies can supply the content specialism that your business needs and deserves.

If they can’t, get it elsewhere.
Like here, for example.

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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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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How to manage creativity

We’re all operating in a world driven by innovation. Product life cycles are shorter than ever before, business start and expand overnight, the cloud computing revolution enables the instant turn-on and shutdown of resources at the click of a button… Entire industry landscapes change and evolve at a higher rate than many of us can keep up with.

As businesses, we try to make as much sense of this as we can. We often find ourselves on the sidelines, watching the game to see which side is winning before joining them on the pitch to help score a few goals.

The most successful companies don’t do that. They’re busy re-writing the rule book and sacking the referee.

Creativity and innovation go hand in hand and are essential to not only entrepreneurship but to the sustained success of established businesses. Unfortunately, many managers don’t know how to manage creativity. It is considered an elusive concept and less direct in its result generation compared to streamlining efficiencies or improving processes.

The first instinct of a manager is to refuse to consider ideas that are challenging and “impossible” (i.e. never been done before) – killing ground-breaking concepts.

“Revolutionary ideas come about when we doubt our existing view of the world,” says Alan Iny, co-author with Luc de Brabandere of Thinking in New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity. “In this respect, true leaders must develop the capacity for radical originality: they must re-imagine and reinvent the world in totally unexpected ways. By doing that, they can create a culture that is open to creative risk-taking and an environment where failure is accepted as part of the creative process.”

Failure makes a great teacher but a lousy friend. A successful creative culture will nurture the process of generating enough ideas and hypotheses to counteract any setbacks from failures – but there will be no focus on failure as a word, which is negatively charged. Instead, it’s all about building resilience where the learnings are part of the creative journey and help form the backdrop for new innovation.

As for encouraging and maintaining the creative streak in our organisations; that’s going to be the next big challenge.
A recent Harvard Business School colloquium on creativity landed in the viewpoint that “One doesn’t manage creativity. One manages for creativity.”

I like the sound of that.

4 ways to build “Brand YOU”

hello-my-name-is-uniqueWhether you are an entrepreneur, business professional or service provider in some capacity, chances are a large portion of your time and effort is spent helping others look good. By working to improve profitability, solve problems, save time or improve image – you are making others more successful, just by being good at what you do.

But what about YOU? How do you make sure you also work on building your own brand – and get more business, more job offers or better compensation?

Now, I’m not talking about self-promotion here. Selling yourself through shamelessly waving your qualifications in other people’s faces is not how you build a strong brand. The only way you will gain true respect and confidence in your industry is by having a solid track record of performance and collecting a string of very satisfied customers and partners along the way. They are your true assets.

What you DO need to do, is to make sure that you leverage those assets in the most efficient way. So how do you do this?

Make yourself aware of what you’re good at

This may sound obvious, but there are two elements to this.

  1. Take time to actually evaluate yourself and bring your strengths and qualities to your conscious mind. By mapping them out in writing, you can make yourself aware of all the things you have to be proud of. But don’t stop there!
  2. The second step should be to speak to the people you serve. Your clients, co-workers, business partners – they all have an opinion on you. Ask them what they enjoy about working with you, how you have helped them and what benefits they have seen. Chances are they will point out things which surprise you, or at least things that you didn’t think mattered very much.

Work on your presence

Are you one of those people that tend to fade into the crowd at gatherings? Are you afraid of becoming the centre of attention, or do you play yourself down so as not to come across as one of those obnoxious horn-tooters that nobody likes? Well – having a humble personality doesn’t need to stop you from building your brand. There are many ways you can establish yourself as an authority in your field without coming across as cocky.

  1. Take genuine interest in people. It may sound counter-intuitive, but by focusing on the other person you are actually shining your own brand light over them. You are offering your ears – as well as your advice, if possible – which establishes a sense of reliability and confidence.
  2. Offer specific examples. Prepare a few anecdotes that you can quickly reel off when a suitable topic comes up, which really showcase your core strengths and abilities. Practice a few times and make sure you feel comfortable talking about yourself, but use the leverage of the client or partner perspective. Hone in on what benefits they saw from working with you or why they chose you instead of the competition.

Find your channels

Not everyone likes to write blogs or schmooze at networking events, but everyone can find platforms for brand-building where they are comfortable. Have a look at the channels you have access to, and identify the ones you like best – then think about how you can amplify them. For example, if you like to comment in an industry group on LinkedIn, you may want to consider also setting up a group of your own and create a schedule for sharing informative content and curating others’ articles. If instead you feel happier behind the podium at a conference, then perhaps you could build a global audience through sharing your knowledge in online webinars.

Keep getting better at what you do

Do you want to be seen as a superior provider, an industry expert or the go-to-person for a particular product? Then telling your story is not enough. You need to make sure you are constantly striving to be the best you can be. You are only ever as good as your delivery, so focus first and foremost on making your stakeholders happy. All the best brands show a consistent, proven quality over time. Without it, you are just an empty rattle.

Do you have other tips on how to build Brand YOU? Feel free to leave a comment!

The real reason you don’t give to charity

We all know the scenario. We walk past a charity collection stall, get stopped by an enthusiastic fundraiser with a clipboard and a well-rehearsed pitch. We get the all-too-familiar feeling of guilt as we make up some lame excuse as to why we choose not to give.

charity“I already give to charity.”

“I’m a bit skint right now.”

“I don’t have time – I’ll visit your website later.”

Whatever the excuse, and whether or not it’s valid, the truth is that most of us walk away feeling uncomfortable. Our guilt buttons have been pressed, and we have to try to switch to “callous mode”.

The Guilt Trap

When we DO give, of course some of us willingly give because we genuinely connect with the cause, but many of us fall into the Guilt Trap – and give only because we feel emotionally blackmailed into doing so. This results in an uneasy feeling, not dissimilar to how we feel when we’ve just bought a pair of shoes that were way too expensive – but the shop assistant assured us we look great in them.

Charity marketing should be no different to commercial marketing. When faced with charity, we employ exactly the same decision making process as we do when we consider purchasing a product or a service. We trust in facts and figures, but when it comes to signing the dotted line we also tune into what some people call the gut feeling.

We listen to our emotional response.

Our job as marketers is to ensure that this emotional response is aligned with the individual’s values. So how do we do that? Well – first of all, let’s not assume that everyone is our target market.

Charity Spam

Fundraising in the street is really a bit like spam email. We bombard every single person with our message, not knowing whether or not they are likely to be interested. A small percentage will respond, whereas the vast majority will turn away – and made to feel guilty for it. If we on the other hand engage with people in a select community, where we know there is already a heartfelt interest in a particular cause, we can create messaging and activities that resonate with that audience. This way we generate higher response rates, which give us improved ROI, and we are more likely to gain advocates who in turn will share the cause with their own networks.

Secondly, we need to also recognise that it’s not all about the money. By guilt-trapping donors, we may get a small, single donation or a sign-up for a monthly direct debit which is soon cancelled. In addition, the person may end up with a negative connotation of the charity. If we instead focus our efforts on winning donors who genuinely love what the organisation stands for, the charity can see long-term benefits which spread like circles on water.

Find the Sweet Spot

As marketers, we really need to wake up and respond to modern human behaviour. As cold as it may sound, charities need more than just pictures of crying children and endangered animals. The new generation has become immune to many of these visuals – because they are constantly bombarded with them and simply cannot respond to them all. But there will be that one or two causes, that speaks to them through the noise; that’s where the sweet spot is.

By implementing this marketing shift, charities will of course also stop wasting time and money on ineffective fundraising. And that’s surely a winner in anyone’s book!