We all know the age-old adage: If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? So, too, it goes with innovation in digital transformation. If a bright new technology is developed, but the right audience never sees it, will it really make an impact? As we’ve seen with numerous technologies—especially virtually reality—the answer is no. Innovation, in and of itself, will never lead to success. Innovation needs marketing to create disruption and purpose in real life.
I’ve talked a lot in the past about failure in innovation. Sometimes, failure is good. It helps you move through the parts of your development that aren’t working. Failing is useful when done right. But if you don’t take the time to figure out why something failed then you’re just bound to repeat the same mistakes. In my experience, innovations only fail for a handful of reasons. Lack of development, lack of support, and lack of finding an audience. I just want to focus on that last one today. Failing because you neglected to understand your audience is a huge issue that needs to be resolved. The following are a few ways innovation needs marketing to find a space for itself in the digital marketplace.
Innovation Needs Marketing to Create a Clear … Er … Market
These days, there’s a lot of emphasis on data-driven, AI-led marketing techniques. Using AI, marketing teams can recommend new products to customers, find language that speaks to customers, and engage them with incentives mid-shopping cart. And while that’s all great in terms of creating positive customer experience in the markets we’ve already developed, it doesn’t help innovators determine new markets of users for their products—or even if their innovation is needed at all. Today’s marketing teams must go back to looking at the bigger picture. Who needs this product? Who can’t live without it? And just as importantly, how do we reach those people? Remember: the right market for this innovation may not lie within your current pocket of customers. Innovation requires thinking outside the data—both in terms of product development and marketing.
I know you’re probably thinking, especially if you are a marketer, “why is this suddenly my job?” The answer is simple, YOU interact with the customers. YOU know your customer base. YOU can see pain points and report back to other departments. Don’t think of it as adding something to your plate. Think of it as collaborating more with departments in the company. Sharing your knowledge to find my success.
Innovation Needs Marketing to Identify Opportunities
Before an innovation is even created, marketing teams need to be working to identify what needs are going unmet in the consumer population—what consumers don’t even realize they can’t live without. Think of Keurig machines. Voice-to-text apps. Subscription television. Marketing needs to be thinking beyond what’s already here and imagine what’s missing. These are the places where innovation can make an impact. The currently saturated market? That’s where innovation goes to die.
Innovation Needs Marketing to Identify Proper Channels
If you’ve developed a new app-based music channel, and you’re advertising your services on TV or the web, you’re probably missing the mark. For the innovation to “set,” you have to hit the right customers where they are—listening to podcasts, talking to Alexa, or playing on apps on their phone. Data can help you define these channels! But you still need to market to them to be successful. Doing the same old thing on the same old channels—that won’t cut it. Omnichannel is great but proper channel is better—at least when it comes to innovation.
Innovation Needs Marketing to Create Ecosystems of Opportunity
Imagine you’ve created all of the innovation behind your new music app, but you haven’t put time into building relationships with music producers and artists. Your innovation may be wonderful, but from a user standpoint, it’s pointless. Customers want to be able to go full-steam right out of the user gate. If your innovation is going to be useful, it needs to bind itself to what they’re already using—be it music, video content, podcasts, etc. That’s why your marketing team needs to work with you in tandem to build out an entire ecosystem of opportunity where your innovation can thrive.
Innovation Needs Marketing to Understand Their Audience
How silly are people willing to look to experience virtual reality? It turns out, not very. Just as VR developers realized their audience wasn’t willing to let go of their vanity to experience the joy of wearing clunky VR goggles, so your marketing team needs to understand the limits—perceptions—issues that lead your customers to make the decisions they do. If your music app is wonderful—it’s connected to every new song the moment it drops—it’s free and accessible right where users want it—but it requires them to purchase a specific pair of ear buds to use it, your marketing team needs to know: WILL THEY? These are the questions that make the difference between disruption and innovations that go nowhere.
Innovation Needs Marketing to Find Use Cases That are … Useful
VR for the sake of VR is cool, but it isn’t enough to penetrate a nation or push it to mass VR adoption. For your innovation to work, marketing needs to be working to make a clear use case (preferably many) for the product. They need to be showing the parts of their lives it will improve and make easier. Innovation 101: You will not make money on cool alone. Developing use cases is an essential part of the development process.
I’ve talked previously about the ways issues within organizations—culture, siloes, etc.—can prohibit innovation. The same is true when product development innovators and marketing teams fail to work together to make a new technology come to life. Innovation needs marketing to thrive. The question for your company is: how well have you partnered these two departments to ensure success in innovative digital transformation?
The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.
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