You have to innovate in business. Working out how to create innovation in your business is vital. It helps you evolve. It means you can work smarter and provide a better service than your competitors. If you don’t not then you will probably lose.

Innovation does not have to be a seismic shift in your business. You can use technology, marketing systems or digital tools to get better results for the same effort. You can ask your customers, your team and look at results in your data to spot what people want or need from you. To innovate in business though you have got to create time, space and the motivation for your business to innovate – or die.

I hosted a panel session titled “The importance of innovation in your business” at the EGR Future Summit this week. Hence the inspired blog title! Whilst the first day of the event had focused on the blockchain, virtual reality, crypto-currencies and other topics most of us won’t know much about – yet – the people on my panel session were there to focus on the importance of innovation in your business today.

What is the value of innovation?

Innovation might seem to many businesses like a grand subject. Something that is somehow almost irrelevant to them or that they can have no impact on. This is a very dangerous attitude. It goes some way to explaining many company’s attitudes towards digital marketing. The view goes something like “we are doing ok as we are so I’m not really sure we need it”.

Innovation though is as simple as spotting opportunities in your business, in your market, in your products and in the desires of your customers. If you can identify and benefit from these quicker than your competitors, then you have a competitive advantage.

The value of innovation is it makes your business better. Whether it helps you give a better service, makes you a more enjoyable company to work for or enables you to be more successful with the same resources, your company will make more money and/or reduce costs. You will be more profitable.

How to innovate in your business

Opportunities for innovation can be spotted across your business. From analytics and sales, to customer services and consumer trends. Anyone in your business could have the next big idea and you should be prepared to listen. It is true most will be rubbish but if you don’t have a culture and process for letting the good ones’ bubble to the top then you will simply stifle innovation, motivation and your teams love for the company.

Some companies have innovation teams, others hold innovation competitions. At Google it is required that a certain element of their developer’s time is spent on new projects. Many of which do not come to fruition.

Don’t always look at the bottom line to spot opportunities to be innovative. Innovation could be an online booking system. Enabling staff to work from home. Marketing automation to capture and nurture new leads so that your marketing and sales is more effective. Focus on how you could do what you do already – but better.

Sometimes innovation will come from a hunch. A deep knowledge of your products and customers. It can also come from a need and it might require an awkward decision.

Someone suggested yesterday that Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone was about creating space to improve battery life. I don’t know if this is true, but you can see how innovation might require you to be bold and trust that you can lead your customers forward.

Sometimes such decisions are so bold that you revolutionise the market. Giving you the chance to be dominant. They call this disruption.

What happens if you are not innovative

I don’t know why Blockbusters disappeared and now Netflix is so successful, but I suspect someone wasn’t bold and innovative about the opportunity in streaming films and TV shows. Blockbusters had millions of customers all over the World. They are now gone.

Failure to be innovative can only lead to overall failure. It is about your company’s overall culture. Being innovative requires you to be inquisitive. To look at why things are done and what the real benefits are. It might not be a seismic shift but it could make all the difference. If you don’t do it you become a poorer place to work.

Take blogging for example. Some companies tried, struggled and stopped. Others do it, understand it and have made it core to their business. It helps them be more successful. It is a simple innovation. A way to be more effective.

It is an innovation in the way that company works, markets and sells its products.

Blogging enables you to attract people to your site. You can see what information they are looking at. If they don’t turn into a customer on that visit you can track them and advertise to them on Facebook. Just imagine if your competitors are doing that really well, and you are not. That is innovation. At least it could be in your business today.

If such adjustments allow you to sell more effectively, you become more successful. As that brings a more positive atmosphere to your work, people are happier, they work more effectively, they give better service, your customers are satisfied, they buy more and refer others. As you hit targets, you pay bonuses, staff love their job, this attracts more talent, your costs go down, your margins go up. It is positive upward movement.

Without innovation, the exact opposite happens. In its crudest terms, your only point of differentiation could become price. You end up giving an inferior product and service at a reduced price. It’s not a nice thing to buy or sell and it creates a stink that nobody wants to be around.

Innovation wins. Simple.

Creating a culture of innovation

Being an innovative company is part of the culture. It needs to be encouraged from the leadership, it should come from across your team and you need to have a process for recognising it and implementing the ideas that you believe will make a difference.

Failure, whilst not ideal, is part and parcel of innovation. Not every idea is going to transform your business but having a culture of innovation, where it is encouraged and followed through on, will help you develop the ability to identify, trial and implement the best ideas successfully. Learning from mistakes is the best way to make improvements. I believe the expression is ‘fail fast’.

How you choose to reward innovation is up to you. Some gave prizes, others financial incentives. For others, it was just part of people’s work. Clearly, though a culture of innovation requires that people get supported and acknowledged for ideas that improve the company.

How to create innovation in your business
You cannot just decide one night to be an innovative company. You need to build it into what you do and who you are as a business. If you want to succeed, or even just survive, then it is vital. Here are some ways:

1. Run a competition

A regular competition – perhaps annually – allows you to create a process for receiving ideas, filtering them and developing the best ones. It gives you an opportunity to promote it and get the most number of responses from across your team. It also helps you manage the process effectively.

Lydia from MicroGaming gave an excellent summary of how the annual competition in their business is now successful across their global team. Impacting sales, revenues and people’s job satisfaction.

2. Make it part of your Recruitment

Having a team of innovative people might seem like an unrealistic expectation. Or even unhelpful. However, having a culture of innovation is part of the recruitment process. Not every person is going to put “I’m innovative” as one of their core skills but having some set questions or minor tasks in the interview will set the expectation that someone is entering a company that innovates. That you want people who are curious and want to improve the business. It is no point as a business leader complaining that no-one ever comes up with good ideas or wants to improve the business if you didn’t mention it when you hired them all.

3. Build it into your customer services

Your customers are full of ideas. Get it right and they will tell you what they want. Of course, you need to filter these requests and decide which are most important i.e. the headphone jack or the battery life. You may also need to break down requests or problems into smaller parts.

It starts however with a willingness to ask your customers if they are satisfied (perhaps using Net Promoter Score) and then having a process for taking feedback and using it to make improvements. That means someone needs to listen to the customers!

4. Base it on reporting and analytics

Data is powerful. You do however need people in your company who can make good use of that data. I’m going to give the most basic of examples though, Google Analytics. Pretty much all companies have a website and if you have read this blog post, then I can’t believe you wouldn’t be the kind of company that didn’t have Google Analytics set up to monitor your website traffic.

So few companies, however, use the information in their Google Analytics to make improvements to their company. So long as you have good content and your site works, then you could see which information people are most interested in. You could see which products are never searched for. You can use a blog to identify the most common needs and problems. You could make improvements in your sales team by seeing what time of day people are visiting.

I could go on, but I hope you see the point. Wherever you have data in your business, look to see how you could benefit from it. It might even be as simple as time sheets. Who in your business is the most productive and how do they do it? Could their ideas improve everyone else’s results?

5. Make it part of people’s jobs

The final recommendation is to make it part of people’s jobs. There is no reason why you cannot make it part of everyones. Some companies have innovation teams and it seems to me like this is more common in larger companies. In smaller companies, it is going to have to come from everyone.
Build it into people’s work and reviews. Something as simple as encouraging the use of social media can result in staff reading more industry news. Naturally, this should lead to new ideas.

Get teams to make a regular presentation to the rest of the company. You can run a competition as suggested above or you can just reward people as great ideas pop up. Another great way to ensure that fresh thinking occurs in the business is to get people from different departments to come together and share challenges, questions and thoughts on how to improve the company.

YOU MUST INNOVATE

My biggest frustration in my work is trying to ‘convince’ companies that being a digital business is vital. I hope this blog post has helped you see that any resistance around digital marketing or being a more digital business is a resistance to innovation. Hoping that doing the same will always result in the same results, is a pretty wild expectation.

The wood chopping company that used axes when chainsaws came around had to make decisions. Innovate or die. They wouldn’t be able to compete doing what they had always done. Either adopt the use of chainsaws or make their business smaller, boutique and specialist.

And if that analogy doesn’t work for you think Amazon vs Woolworths or Netflix vs Blockbuster.

Innovation is vital to your business.

If you want to find ways in your business to innovate and harness these benefits, then book a Digital Discovery Call with me and join the Digital Business Power community.