Is Digital Innovation Always Hard? Not if You Lay the Groundwork.

Digital innovation is essential for modern brands but often difficult to achieve. The search for innovation is not only a source of frustration and disappointment for marketers, but brands risk leaving opportunities on the table without the right foundation.

Contrary to popular belief, innovation is not a product of start-up culture, a child of a digital generation or the legacy of the 21st century. Innovation is a natural and endless human function. But while we as people are changing, shaping and renewing ourselves and the world around us, innovation is a conscious choice that brands need to make.

The brands that can forge a path of innovation have deeper and longer relationships with their customers, and that’s not because they create novelty but because they are focused on solving problems before the consumer could even begin to articulate them. As we move deeper into a digital existence, it becomes abundantly clear that brands don’t just need digital innovation to stay alive, but to thrive.

And here’s the rub: The best brands already know they need to innovate, but the path to get there is elusive, intimidating, and full of risk.

Digital innovation is easier said than done

Maybe the problem isn’t with innovation, but the word ‘innovation’. It’s a word that in modern digital marketing is notable only in its ubiquity. It gets thrown around to describe almost every brand action, is productized and is used interchangeably for words like ‘idea’, ‘invention’, and ‘technology’ — things that from a marketing perspective are budgetary luxuries, not business-as-usual reality. 

This lack of clear definition makes innovation feel about as attainable as the holy grail. Marketers are left holding the bag, with few tools in their arsenal beyond simply asking for innovation (which is a marketing crime not unlike a comedian’s ‘tell me a funny joke’) from partners who seem to know the secret code. The resulting briefs are spray and pray, and feedback often lands somewhere frighteningly close to ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’ 

But what if innovation is only recognizable in hindsight? Marketers need a better blueprint — innovation isn’t a secret code, a product or technology. It’s a tangible process. If we can define it, we can create the foundation to get there.

[Re]defining digital innovation

“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things”. – Theodore Levitt

We trade in an economy of ideas, but on their own ideas are inert. To get to the core of digital innovation we need a definition that has momentum, prescribes action and demands results. Digital innovation is a verb: it’s the act of bringing an idea into the world. To that end, both idea and execution are fundamental.

Building a foundation for digital innovation

With the destination clearly defined, it becomes possible to map the route to get there. Whether the thinking and making happens in-house or with agency partners, innovation demands a solid foundation within the culture of the organization.

1. Fall in love with your problems

All innovation starts with a problem, and when it comes to brand marketing it’s far too easy to fall in love with the ‘wow factor’ of solutions in the digital space. But there’s a dilemma: the solutions you fall in love with weren’t for your problems. Marketers who are obsessed with their brand and consumer problems are better positioned to deliver true innovation.

2. Embrace constraints

There’s a hesitancy of imposing limitations on the creative process, especially in the early stages. This is largely powered by the fear of missing a great idea, but innovative thinking is a response to constraints not a casualty of them. Marketers who establish the creative rules of engagement and creative constraints will invite solutions that break ground with focus and purpose.

3. Technology is a tool, not the solution

Many marketers go into the creative process thinking technology and innovation are interchangeable principles. While innovation isn’t the same as technology (and doesn’t even require it), technology can often be the basis for truly new ideas, executions, and behavior change. Marketers who understand how to leverage the possibilities of technology will breach the creative dam.

4. Invest in experimentation

Brands are seeking new and noteworthy solutions that are as elegant as they are effective. These aren’t impossible, but they’re rare on the first try. Innovation is a risky business, but marketers who create a culture of experimentation through continued investment and deep partnerships will replace much of that risk with reward.

5. Prototype, please

Brands often use test-and-learn to ask ‘what worked?’ to measure retrospective performance and effectiveness or fine-tune future creative, but often when it’s too late. The most compelling strength of working in the digital space is the ability to build mid-stream. Marketers who lean into prototypes can instead move from ‘what worked?’ to ‘will this work?’ and course correct through the process to ensure effectiveness.

6. Create new behavior

One of the greatest challenges in the pursuit of innovation is the disproportionate roles of hindsight and chance in assessing it. Traditionally, marketers and brands were at the mercy of both before work could be deemed innovative. And yet this rethinking of innovation is far simpler: if it results in a new behavior, it’s innovation.

Innovation is intentional

As long as brands face the expanding demands of their business and consumers, the hunt for new creative solutions will march on across the entire marketing landscape. Again, innovation is a conscious choice that brands need to make, but it’s the chaotic search for innovation that often leaves marketers exhausted, jaded, and disappointed. 

And that’s because innovation is not something you find, but something you create — an impossible process if you don’t start with the right foundation. 

When marketers reclaim the word and demystify the process, they clear the path for innovation that drives brand growth and fosters brand love long term.

Originally published on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.