But I’m in Marketing, How Can I Innovate?

by Steve Cover

In my last post, I defined innovation in two ways:

  1. a simplistic definition of “A novel creation that produces value
  2. a richer definition of “Innovation is the art of applying creative ingenuity to either solving business problems or creating material value through a product, service or experience

I still really like both of these definitions for different reasons. The simple one is both clear and concise while the richer definition provides a bit more guidance into how to really think about innovation. As a result, I think they will each resonate with different people and will hopefully bring more people to the realization that anyone can be innovative.

The idea that we all have the potential to innovate and it is not a special skill only few possess is the topic of this post. I have spoken with many people who default to the idea that innovation is something only the smartest or most original can achieve. As such, they tend to limit their thinking about innovation to the big examples which are most often referenced such as the iPhone or Facebook. I want to challenge this approach and show that innovation really spans your entire business or organization.

But first of all, for those of you in marketing, I was only joking with the title. I know you are some of the most innovative thinkers out there. Unfortunately for you, our culture has shifted the perception of innovation to being about a product and more often, about a new technology. Because of that, I fear that many other disciplines do not see their efforts as innovative and may limit their thinking as a result. If you want to see some innovative billboard marketing, check out this article by Design Shack for some very creative ways of reaching people.

Now, back to the topic for today.

Taking part of our definition, “solving business problems or creating material value”, provides a good framework for thinking about different avenues of innovation. There are four avenues that I believe provide a good structure for thinking about innovation in any organization – Experience, Offering, Process, and Business.

  1. Experience: Creating innovation through each encounter with a customer.
    The way we interact with customers may be more important than the product or service we provide. As a result, there is a lot of room for innovation in these interactions. Often experience innovations take shape in terms of sales, marketing, and customer support. All of these functions have direct and regular interactions with customers, therefore, innovations in this area can often have significant impact on how your organization is perceived.
  2. Offering: Creating innovation through a product or service.
    Product innovation is often the focus for innovation discussions, so I won’t spend any time on the product side. But inside of the Offering Avenue you should also be thinking about the broader ecosystem around your offering as well as the way you serve your customers. All three of these really affect the overall offering you provide – be careful to not limit yourself to only thinking about new products or features.
  3. Process: Creating innovation in external and internal processes.
    We are really talking about internally focused innovations here. The processes that exist inside every business can either be a source of differentiation or a hindrance to growth. When thinking about your processes, it is good to understand which ones are core to your business and then work to optimize these core processes to create capabilities that are unique compared to competitors. I also advise evaluating the other processes and capabilities you have assembled from outside sources. Are you using 3rd party tools effectively or are they just there because they’ve always been there? Look for ways to innovate inside your organizations using the tools you have or by removing or optimizing them.
  4. Business: Creating innovation in the organizational structure or its relationships.
    When was the last time you looked for innovative ways to change how your enterprise makes money? This could be through new markets, new business models or just through reducing costs. Have you evaluated how you work with 3rd party vendors and suppliers? Do you have a good handle on your overall business network? All of these areas are great sources for potential innovation. There is often lots of room to innovate here and make measurable impacts on the bottom line.

Note that these “Avenues of Innovation” allow for innovation from an external and internalperspective. This is important to understand because there is a ton of innovation that can happen inside a company or organization. So make sure you don’t limit your innovation thinking to just the products or services you provide. I also want to make it clear that when I say “customers”, I mean either internal or external customers. It could be that you work in an organization that delivers something to another internal organization and you are far removed from external customers – that should not limit your thinking about innovation. (As a side note, you should also work hard to find a connection to the external customers that pay the bills. This will better enable you to speak the language of the business. But that is a topic for another post.)

As you can see, there are many ways to innovate in any given organization. These innovations might deliver the next big thing to customers or they might be a great new way to do business better. What is critical is that everyone is capable of innovating and should always be looking for ways to do so. I know there are often organizational hurdles to the execution of innovative ideas, but that should never stop you from looking for those ideas. We can talk more later about how to make your culture and organization more innovation friendly.

If you want to see more about how these Avenues of Innovation fit into the larger discussion of Innovation, check out our eGuide to Intentional Innovation.


Steve leads the Innovation practice at Intellinet focusing on enabling clients to infuse a pragmatic approach to innovation inside their organizations.  His background is in technology leadership and product development.  You can follow him on Twitter @scover.