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What the legacy of Steve Jobs can teach us about marketing innovation

What the legacy of Steve Jobs can teach us about marketing innovation

By Claire Weekes, senior reporter, UTalkMarketing

At this year’s ad:tech event in September, an overwhelming 87% of marketers said that they would be increasing investment in marketing technologies over the next twelve months so that they could look at innovating their campaigns (according to research by Upstream).

This statistic, borne out of a survey of 100 marketers at one of the UKs most prolific yearly marketing trade shows, bears testament to the fact that innovation is high on the industry’s agenda. Perhaps even more so since the recent death of one of the 20th and 21st century’s most iconic innovators, Apple’s Steve Jobs. Who, we all wonder, will follow in his footsteps and emerge as the next icon in our digital marketing world?

When Jobs turned up to overhaul the Apple brand after the company had suffered decades of going into free fall, he radically changed the business, implementing a revolutionary new management system. He took risks. He laid off thousands of staff, threw out entire product lines and breathed new life into ones that remained.

Jobs wasn’t necessarily an inventor – he didn’t invent the computer or the MP3 player, but he made the products cool and he made people not just want them – but feel like they couldn’t live without them. Why else would Apple lovers happily camp and queue outside stores to be the first to pick up the recent iPhone 4S (which is not even a new Apple product – just an upgrade).

“To be an innovator in marketing, or any sector, requires foresight – the ability to predict and respond to what people will need in one, five or ten years’ time,” says Mike Spicer, CEO at direct marketing agency Pulse Group. The eulogising of Steve Jobs has epitomised this point perfectly – he had enough vision to be able to predict where technology was moving, and also to envisage how people wanted to use technology in the future.”

“A lot of people would cite Apple as a paragon of product innovation, and it’s absolutely true that Apple’s entire marketing strategy springboards from this platform,” agrees Graham Staplehurst, global brandZ director at research agency Millward Brown. “But for me, iTunes remains the company’s biggest marketing innovation, finding a route to meet the consumer need for flexible, easy-to-use music consumption – and creating value where online music sharing was seen as the death of the music industry.”

Which brings us back to the point that why Jobs succeeded in innovating was because he had a unique talent in being able to spot the potential in existing products and ideas, more than invent completely new ones. Online music sharing was nothing new when iTunes launched, instead Apple revolutionised the way in which consumers could share that music, and then did a very good job of creating a culture around its brand that has since kept those customers loyal.

“As an industry, we’re all obsessed with the latest innovations – they create competitive advantage. But all too often [we] fall into the trap of equating innovative with new, [which] ignores a second and often richer source of innovation. Instead of doing something new and often unproven, it’s often far more transformative to look at what’s already happening and do it far better,” says Robin Bonn from creative technology agency, Code Worldwide.

This piece of advice doesn’t just have to apply to product development, as in Apple’s case, but to marketing industry development too. Bonn takes the online display industry as an example. “The process of [creating Flash banner ads] – slow, costly and manual, is the same as it was when the first one rolled off the production line 15 years ago. This craft led process is holding back the performance of online advertising to a staggering degree.

“We now have an incredibly rich picture of online behaviour [and] demographics, so the only hurdle between us and a fully optimisable model is the speed of creative deployment. Clients with say, £1m to spend on online media are forced to buy a few, high traffic sites because they can only afford to create a dozen banners at best. This is not the highly targeted, one-to-one world we live in,” he adds.

So as those 87% of ad:tech attendees ponder how they will use next year’s increased budget in order to innovate, perhaps they need to look at how they can improve on existing products and technologies, rather than attempt to design outlandish new ones.

Meanwhile a parting piece of advice – perhaps think very carefully before investing any of that budget in hiring an innovation team.

“When I come across a client, or still worse an agency, with an “innovation team” or “innovation workstream” I run away as fast as I can”, reveals Richard Madden, chief strategy officer at Kittcatt Nohr Digitas.

“It means that people have ceased to do their day to day work in a way which naturally results in innovation. The best organisations are those in which innovation is a necessary by-product of getting the job done. It comes from setting goals which are stretching enough to force people to think and act in new and different ways, and encouraging them to fail once in a while, and then fail better the next time. Encouraging innovation is like encouraging breathing. If the body's healthy, it shouldn't need coaxing to do it."

On February 2, UTalkMarketing will host its second annual Marketing Innovation EXPO (MI Expo), providing senior marketers’ key insights into the essential technology driven marketing trends. To find out more about this exciting event, click here.

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