Tanya Joseph: Marketers must break into the innovation hot-house

Marketers need to get better at marketing themselves to ensure they are part of the innovation team and not just left to promote new products.

Tanya Joseph
Photographer: Rehan Jamil

The other day I had a coffee with a friend I haven’t seen for ages. He is an in-house lawyer at a large FMCG brand (I had better not name it or, come to think of it, him). He was very excited about a new product the company is going to be launching in the next few weeks.

As he’s a lawyer you have to know him very well to detect high levels of excitement, but believe me he was excited. I think it was because it is a product aimed at women and, knowing my particular interest, he thought that I would be particularly interested. Oh dear.

As a woman and a marketer I am always intrigued by products and services targeted at women. But in truth this was a terrible product. A bit of a copycat, a bit late and well off the mark. Not wishing to offend my friend by dismissing it out of hand, I asked a few questions. What did he think of it? What was the thinking behind it? How was it developed? Who took the lead on product development?

In his company there is an innovation team – a well-nurtured hot-house of “eggheads” (his word not mine) who are paid to come up with brilliant, big ideas. It is a pretty commonplace approach, in both the private and public sectors, so I am not sure why I was left so depressed by the conversation.

But I was. I am.

This practice on paper makes so much sense – get your brightest, most analytical people and ask them to innovate. But more often than not they do so in isolation from the rest of the business; they may have lots of data but not the real-life context; and they aren’t working with arguably the most creative minds in the organisation – the marketing and communications team.

READ MORE: Are the ‘4Ps of marketing’ still relevant?

It infuriates me that we are not, as a rule, seen as drivers of innovation. Marcoms people are creative. We are in tune with consumers and know our customers. We are sensitive to the operating environment. And yet, all too frequently, we are not called upon to help develop new products and services.

Too often we are brought in at the final stages of the process: too late to influence the look, feel, price or even the product itself. We can all think of the turkeys we have been expected to shift, which if we had been in the room at the outset would have been very different. For a start they would have been more marketable.

We know the market, the consumer and how to turn data into actual insight, which can and should be the foundation of good innovation.

Why is does it happen, time and again? I think in part it is because people don’t really understand what marcoms actually is. And to be honest that is our fault. It is a case of the cobbler’s children going unshod, I am afraid. We are a bit rubbish at marketing ourselves, at making sure that our own colleagues really understand the contribution we make to the business.

We need to educate our colleagues so that they understand we don’t just spend money with advertising agencies. They need to understand that we know the market; we know the consumer; we know how to turn data into actual insight, which in turn can and should be the foundation of all good innovation.

And once a creative concept has emerged, we know what it should look and feel like, where it should sell and at what price. We are innovators and should be at the heart of our businesses helping to shape future products and services.

So what do we do? We shouldn’t wait to be asked. We need to insinuate ourselves into the process, make sure we are in the room, and demonstrate how we can add value. We need to encourage each other to think beyond the brief, to develop ideas for new products based on our experience, knowledge and insight and to share them.

Only then will we stop having to market duds and, in the case of the poor marketing team at my friend’s company, having to try to promote a terrible product that some bloke in the design team thought would appeal to women if you made it pink and used a curly font on the packaging.

Tanya Joseph is a consultant and was architect of the This Girl Can campaign at Sport England.


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  • Andy Haywood 2 Mar 2017 at 11:35 am

    Fully Agree, Tanya – I’ve seen first-hand how easy it is to get caught up in the product and completely ignore who you’re trying to convince to invest money into using it. If no one wants or needs it, your “brilliant idea” is wasted…

    I’ve recently started a new role at a company that has had a minimal marketing focus in the past. It’s been interesting to see how the vision that has resonated with the target market had started to be lost when the focus was so internal and based on theory.

    Happily, we’re back to providing the solution that’s being asked for (a way to minimise email overload) and I can’t deny it makes my job easier when you don’t have to “convince” people of your solution; they’ve been waiting for it!

    If you have that link to the consumer market sat in the office, you’d be foolish to not use it and it’s up to us as that link to make sure we’re not overlooked.

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