Companies face an increasing need to embrace a culture of marketing innovation if they are to see long-term success, according to Bradley Howard, head of digital media for IT services firm Endava, who here explains how marketing teams can achieve exactly that. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

According to the Consortium for Service Innovation, the definition of "innovation" ranges from the "introduction of something new" to "something substantially different". Even with such a wide definition, business history is still littered with examples of companies that failed to innovate, where competitors simply crushed them. As a result, Howard warns, marketing executives need to constantly ask themselves "what can I do that is substantially different to improve my service, product, function or role?"

The problem is that most people don't like change. Doing nothing is easy. But if you keep delivering the same offerings in the same way as you've always done, tomorrow will be the same as yesterday and next year will be the same as last year. But competitors will appear with improved products and services, while your revenues decline.

Innovation is inherently risky and unknown, and this is not helped by the inherently risk-adverse nature of Western corporate culture. So we need to innovate, but in a less risky way - and that's a difficult balance to achieve. The maxim "ompanies have to die in order to be reborn" does not help innovative thinking. Similarly, it is difficult to see the need to drive innovation when things are going well.

Achieving a culture of innovation is difficult. Most people aren't paid to go to work solely to think of new services, products, methods or practices. We've all met people who will strictly work eight hours a day or their specific job role. Most of us have heard other people say, "It's not my role to innovate". But everyone in the company should be thinking of innovation constantly - even if all they do with each new idea is pass it up the line to somebody whose job it is to innovate.

Think of innovative companies such as Google, Dyson and Amazon. People want to work for them as they all seem to offer a great environment where you spend eight hours a day coming up with ideas and get paid for it. Even Irene Rosenfeld, CEO for Kraft, described Kraft as a "40 billion dollar start-up" - and creating such a culture of innovation within a company with 100,000+ employees was challenging, especially when there was such a risk-averse culture before Rosenfeld took over.

It is also difficult to think about the future; for most of us, our minds aren't wired that way. To make it easier, look retrospectively using scenarios and consider the following:

  • What digital media tools or systems will you use to help productivity in five years' time?
  • How will customers be using your website in two years' time?
  • How can the user enter all these details without using the keyboard?
  • How can you protect a secure service without a cumbersome password?
  • Identify your most useful smartphone app (it's interesting to do this collectively) and establish how to integrate this with your company's app.

Sometimes it's a human reaction to think that a product or service is so well used and ingrained that there's nothing else that can be invented. Take tomato soup, bank accounts or chocolate bars as three examples: Heinz, Barclays and Cadbury all offer personalised products: whether it's the personalised labelling or the photo on your debit card, this has created significant viral marketing value for all of them.

At one of Howard's previous companies, staff were given bonuses for writing patents for the organisation. They received different amounts for producing new concepts, for filing them, and based on whether or not those filings turned into accepted patents. The highest reward was given when a patent was commercially exploited.

Create a culture where you have regular innovation sessions outside of work hours, which will always generate a number of good ideas, and keep the innovation culture fresh. Innovation must not be a one off exercise but an ongoing process, as great ideas will always be copied by your competition. For continued success, ensure that you are ahead of the pack by accelerating innovative change initiatives and respond swiftly to new opportunities.