Six Steps for Building a Culture of Digital Innovation

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By Karen Staughton, West Coast Engagement Director, Grow

Digital innovation is essential for modern brands – now more than ever. Last month, Gartner released a report urging companies to prioritize digitization now to succeed in a post-COVID world.

Most brands already know they need to innovate, but the path to get there is elusive, intimidating and full of risk. Perhaps the source of the problem is the word “innovation,” which is often used interchangeably for words like “idea,” “invention’” and “technology.” For marketers, those are all budgetary luxuries, not business-as-usual reality.

We need a definition that prescribes action and demands results. Think of digital innovation as a verb: The act of bringing an idea into the world. To that end, both idea and execution are fundamental. With the destination clearly defined, it becomes possible to map the route to get there.

Here are six steps to building a culture of innovation.

1. Fall in love with your problems

All innovation starts with a problem. When it comes to brand marketing, it’s far too easy to fall in love with the “wow factor” of solutions in the digital space. But too often, brands realize after the fact that those solutions don’t address the right problems. Marketers who are obsessed with their brand and consumer problems are better positioned to deliver true innovation.

2. Embrace constraints

Marketers are often hesitant to impose limitations on the creative process, especially in the early stages. This is largely due to the fear of missing a great idea. But innovative thinking is a response to constraints, not a casualty of them. Marketers who establish the creative rules of engagement and creative constraints will invite solutions that break ground with focus and purpose.

3. Technology is a tool, not a solution

Many marketers go into the creative process thinking technology and innovation are interchangeable principles. While innovation isn’t the same as technology (and doesn’t even require it), technology can often be the basis for truly new ideas, executions, and behavior change. Marketers who understand how to leverage the possibilities of technology will breach the creative dam.

4. Invest in experimentation

Brands are seeking new and noteworthy solutions that are as elegant as they are effective. That isn’t impossible, but it’s rare to find on the first try. Innovation is a risky business, but marketers who create a culture of experimentation through continued investment and deep partnerships will replace much of that risk with reward.

5. Prototype, please

Brands often use a test-and-learn approach to measure retrospective performance and effectiveness or fine-tune future creative — but that exercise is often conducted far too late. The most compelling strength of working in the digital space is the ability to build mid-stream. Marketers who lean into prototypes can move from “what worked?” to “will this work?” and course correct through the process to ensure effectiveness.

6. Create a new behavior

Historically, one of the greatest challenges in the pursuit of innovation was the disproportionate roles of hindsight and chance. Traditionally, marketers and brands were at the mercy of both before work could be deemed innovative. But this rethinking of innovation is far simpler: If it results in new behavior, it’s innovation.

Innovation is a conscious choice that brands need to make. It’s not something you find, but something you create — an impossible process if you don’t start with the right foundation.

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