Creative thinking that delivers results

01 May

Can marketers be innovative?

marketing, marketing communications, marketing strategy, innovation

Innovation isn’t a word often associated with marketing, in part because our industry has often been considered more of a creative medium.  And while the growing prevalence of marketing automation and analytics might change this perception a bit, for many the idea of marketing innovation is still far off.  So can marketers be innovative, and if so, what would this look like in practical terms?


You don’t have to go too far to test the concept of innovation in marketing. If you look at one of the fundamental elements of a solid marketing strategy – differentiation – you can start to answer this question in a fairly tangible way.

Differentiation by definition refers to “those efforts that make a product or brand stand out as one that offers unique attributes to its customers”.  In a crowded and somewhat vanilla business environment, this objective can sometimes feel like the proverbial ‘holy grail’, and a virtual impossibility.

Nevertheless, smart marketers spend the time to understand their brand, customers and markets along with their products and services and those of their competitors. They then take these elements and weave them into a unique, may I say, innovative story that portrays their business in a differentiated manner, one that stands out in the crowd.  Innovation at work I would suggest!

Be a contrarian

A contrarian by definition is someone who “opposes or rejects popular opinion”.  In the world of marketing, too many small and medium-sized businesses operate as followers, mimicking what they perceive to be the latest marketing trends without considering what the relevance and value is to their company.

This sheep’s mentality is in my opinion one of the biggest marketing pitfalls that many businesses fall into. Use of social media is a classic example of this. Many companies invest sizable amounts of their marketing budget in social, and often jump into the latest and greatest social media platform without evaluating if it is the best place to invest their marketing budget.

They simply assume that if others are successful on this platform then so will they. What they fail to acknowledge is that many of these platforms have a very unique and specific audience, which may or may not be right for them. Snapchat is a classic example of this scenario with their predominantly millennial audience. If you aren’t marketing your products to them, why would you want to be on here?

Clever marketers instead employ a contrarian mindset. They avoid the herd mentality by attempting to differentiate themselves through unique and innovative tactics, messages and even approaches. Their approach is to find the most innovative way to get marketing information to their target customers. It may take a bit more work, planning and time but in the end it can often yield tangible results that others can’t easily replicate.

Pushing the envelope

Another way that marketers can be innovative in what they do is by constantly pushing the boundaries with their work, looking for new and distinctive ways to communicate with and reach their customers. Contrary to what one may think, this does NOT necessarily involve chasing the latest marketing fad and trend (though it can when it makes sense to do so).

Geolocation (mobile tactic that uses a customer’s geographic location to send customized messages and offers to their smartphones) is poised to be the latest frontier in this realm. Though many marketers have been talking about this concept for several years, few are actually using it as a regular part of their marketing efforts. Those that can successfully lead this trend are likely to be the big winners here.

This concept can also involve the use of existing marketing channels and tactics that are instead used now in a different way, perhaps with different content, objectives, designs, etc. Marketers need to realize that innovation in our world truly involves thinking and operating differently, not being satisfied with the status quo or with what others are doing (even if it’s wildly successful!) and forging our own path to your brand’s success!

Putting marketing innovation into action

Marketing innovation is plainly not for the faint of heart! It is for those marketers confident enough in their team and in their ability to make sensible business decisions while living with and managing the inevitable mistakes that will be made along the way. True innovation can expect nothing less.

To be truly innovative, we marketers need to operate in a climate that allows us to be creative, to make risky yet calculated decisions and to succeed or fail as a result of all this. Can marketers be innovative? Most definitely, but they need to escape the “me too” mentality and be bold enough to run with the brilliant ideas they come up with. Anything less is taking the path of least resistance that is bound to lead to sub-optimal results.


A great example of this innovative marketing mindset can be seen in an article on Hilton Hotels. This global brand is attempting to transform its business by better engaging with its customers, whose growing expectations  has created the ultimate challenge for this 100+ year old business. Their relentless desire to accomplish this goal is proof that marketing innovation is one sure way to ensure the longevity and success of a brand, especially in today’s highly competitive market.