Innovation sacrificed for ‘speed to market’

British marketers can successfully innovate but too often their company culture means “they’ve never bloody well been asked”, according to Andrew Seth, former chief executive of Lever Brothers speaking at the Marketing Forum aboard the Canberra last week.

Seth said consumer marketing and long-term brand viability are accorded a low priority. He claimed brand strategy in the UK frequently comes second to short-term financial results and managing the share price.

Fellow speaker Chris Wood, managing director of brand development consultancy CLK, said that “speed to market” was the latest macho trend influencing decisions but resulting in poorly thought-out ideas that soon floundered.

Innovation, they acknowledged, is difficult: it demands the highest calibre people, since creating a strategy from scratch is tougher than managing existing business. Such qualities must be ingrained in company culture: the key to consistent innovation is not intermittent brainstorming sessions but a facility for solving problems.

Seth told delegates that UK industry had to change its mentality to foster successful innovation and referred scathingly to the forum’s opening speech, delivered by Grand Metropolitan group chief executive George Bull, which included copious references to Bull’s early days working in the far-flung corners of the British Empire.

“[It’s no good] talking to us about the British Empire. Our working processes are rooted in the past. Business has got to challenge these assumptions and processes,” he said.

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