Let’s start with three bold assertions:
- The way you are thinking about innovation is wrong.
- Aldi is just as innovative as Amazon and Apple.
- You should be stealing from all three.
...and when I say stealing I mean, of course, modelling their approach to innovation. Here’s why:
When clients ask for “more innovation” in campaigns, what do they mean? Do they mean AI? That’s pretty innovative right? Blockchain or bitcoin? Magic Leap? Or should we reach for the nearest trends presentation?
When clients ask for innovation, it’s tempting to just turn to the above sources and drop in a few charts - for time, for effort, for safety.
And when they receive it, yes, clients are likely to get galvanised and revved up, but then after a moment’s reflection, reality strikes, and they worry its too expensive, too beyond them, and perhaps for another day. The agency goes away, makes a traditional plan and nothing changes. You will have seen this happen. I have.
The ‘EVO-TO-REVO’ Model
But there is a way out of this cycle. It starts with an admission that the way we think about innovation is wrong. Innovation is not a single defined concept or lone word. It is a spectrum, not a colour.
I want people to start thinking about innovation as a continuum. At one end place Evolution. In the middle Transformation. At the end Revolution. Three powerful iterations of innovation, each unique and valid in their own way - and each with an ‘A’ company as its standard bearer. Let me explain:
For Evolution, look no further than Aldi.
Aldi’s innovations have been the engine behind the gradual evolution of the supermarket business model for the last two decades. How? Through being the master of the marginal gain, the incremental twist, the ingenious smart solution:
- Aldi double the amount of barcodes on their products to ensure staff waste no time searching for them, and can scan items in double-quick time
- 90% of their products are own brand, allowing them to design packaging that acts as its own pseudo-shelving unit, meaning time is saved stacking product out on the floor
- Staff are trained in every single discipline, meaning rosters are ruthlessly efficient and flexible
None of these brilliantly clever hacks, cheats and shortcuts are groundbreaking, but combined they are in the service clear purpose and mission: in a time-poor, price-sensitive market, to give customers a simple, efficient shopping experience resulting in disproportionate value at the till.
Look at their motto, in the image below, proudly emblazoned on the wall.
The Indians have a name for this. Jugaad; frugal innovation that has disproportionate effect. Or doing more with less.
Brands should ask themselves: what are our Jugaad innovations in comms? What are the smart changes and modest ‘nudge improvements’ we can make to ensure our media works disproportionately harder.
Moving along the spectrum, for Transformation, its Amazon.
Amazon is the model for how to build capability, experiment, expand, diversify. In contrast to Evolution, Transformation implies a greater willingness to embrace change, and embark upon adventure into new territories. To test. To learn. Like this:
- Amazon started as an online book seller in 1994.
- By 1998 it had started selling music.
- By 2002, it was into clothing.
- In 2005, it started Prime.
- In 2007, it moved into hardware with its Kindle.
- 2013 saw it buy the Washington Post.
- In 2015, the Echo arrived.
- In 2017, it bought Whole Foods.
In each case, they were not the first entrant into the territory or discipline, but they were willing to join those who already resided there, learning from the mistakes of previous entrants, and developing new skill-sets to conquer new markets.
Brand should ask themselves: what new skill sets do we need? What areas should we venture into for the first time? Note: you don’t have to be the first. Just join those who are already there, get to know what they know, so you can improve upon it.
At the extreme end, for Revolution, its Apple.
In 2001, Apple changed the game with its iPod, and then did it all again in 2007 with the iPhone - in both cases creating a whole new category of technology. First to market. First to scale. First to dominate. Apple didn’t expand into a new market [like Amazon did with their Transformation strategy], they created a new market.
Could a brand ever do the same with its comms?
How To Apply The Model To Marketing and Comms
When brands talk about innovation, if they are only considering more extreme forms, they would be forgiven for wincing; it’s expensive, it’s difficult, and it’s fraught with failure.
But along with Evolution and Transformation, it marks the terminus of the conceptual sweep of ‘innovation’. When we come to talk about innovation, we should reframe our discussions, and think in terms of a spectrum. Rather than just drop the ‘i-word’ into meetings, seek to innovate in all three areas of the spectrum, use the EVO-TO-REVO model to locate your innovation opportunities, roadmapping your journey across all three, always tracking right.
Start by concentrating on the quick wins through Evolution: what hacks and shortcuts and marginal gains can we introduce to start raising our floor: can you define audiences more keenly or can we de-dupe them using innovative twists and tweaks? If your client must insist on press, what’s a way to nudge that into a genuinely new and smart execution?
What is the media equivalent of Aldi's double-barcode?
For Transformation, what new channels can be used for experiment? What are our competitors doing that we are not, and what can we learn from it? How do we diversify our media plans, and get exciting new line items on there?
For Revolution, is there a radical new way of planning waiting to discovered? A brand new technology, platform or canvas that will allow the brand to express or communicate in a genuinely innovative way?
The point of all this is to agree with your client upfront that there are many iterations of the concept of innovation, and that using the model to locate your innovation opportunities and roadmap your progress, gives you a better chance of affecting change.
In short you don’t need to be an Apple to be innovative. You can be an Amazon. And you can be an Aldi too!
Note: this article also exists as a Keynote.
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