Marketing and Innovation: Made for Each Other

Peter Drucker, social ecologist and grandfather of modern marketing once said: “The business enterprise has two, and only two, basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”

It should be a no-brainer. Marketing and innovation were made for each other.

So why is it that in Asia these two disciplines seemingly just can’t hit it off?

Some say it is a different agenda, some say it is different time commitments, and others say it is outdated corporate cultures and processes.

No matter what the reason, one thing is for certain – if marketers and innovators don’t work hand in hand, both are just costs too.

With the steady growth of the sharing economy people are already bypassing corporations and brands are slowly losing their relevance.

Thus, I urge marketing and innovation professionals to burry the hatchet!

Here are my recommendations for how to do it, and along the way, win some of that lost relevance back.

1. Move Marketing Up the Food Chain

Traditionally, marketing only got looped into the innovation process once a new product or service was nearly ready to go to market.

This often resulted in inventive outputs that lacked market and consumer orientation.

Getting marketing involved early in the process, makes sure that the development has the consumer in mind.

It also helps to shape and optimize marketing and communication strategies, as it gives marketers a deeper understanding of the product and also more time to create, test and tweak their initiatives.

Ideally, of course, marketing is not only an observer or consultant to innovation, but also an integral part of it. After all, nowadays innovation itself is marketing.

WARC’s Innovation Casebook 2015 identifies an emerging trend within the industry – that a common theme among cutting edge marketing campaigns is not to produce a communications campaign, but to focus innovation on the product or service, and then use communications to amplify that innovation.

Volvo’s reflective safety spray LifePaint and Quicksilver’s multi-functional True Wetsuits are just two representative examples for such cutting edge initiatives.

Here’s Volvo’s LifePaint:


And Quicksilver’s True Wetsuit:

While the latter originated from Japan, most of Asia however, has yet to embrace this innovation-led approach to marketing.

2. Create a Culture of Innovation

When innovation can work itself into every aspect of a business, then it also becomes a pillar of the company’s marketing strategy and vice versa.

In order for this to happen in Asia, a top-down approach is required with management encouraging and rewarding their staff’s proactivity and creativity.

Now there certainly is no formula for creating a functioning innovation culture, but one thing has to be a given: commitment.

Culture needs to be nourished, managed, refreshed, and sometimes also refocused. And this obviously is not just a pet project, it is a full-time job.

The pleasant byproduct of an innovation-driven company culture is talent retention, which in markets such as Hong Kong, China and Korea represents a pressing issue for the entire marketing industry.

According to the latest SoDA Report, most of the advertising agencies and production companies that have built internal labs and incubators had a lot happier and more engaged staff.

In the end, it requires management to build the foundation, innovators to accept marketing as a member of the development process and marketers to proactively venture out of their comfort zones to make peace and live up to both disciplines’ potential. To consumers, it is already all the same thing. 

*Image courtesy Quicksilver

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