We need more innovation – but where do businesses start?

Businesses should expand their horizons. "True innovation is to see what could be, not just what is," argues Kantar's head of innovation.

by Dr Nicki Morley
Last Updated: 08 Jun 2023

The Institute for Global Change has recently published a paper called “A New National Purpose: Innovation Can Power the Future of Britain”. A joint intro from Tony Blair and William Hague lays out the agenda for largescale innovation, stressing that “the future of Britain will depend on a new age of invention and innovation”. Yet it is focussed predominately on macro-level investment in infrastructure, with little mention of what businesses can be doing to innovate now.

Concurrently, we need individual businesses and brands to adopt strong innovation approaches too. Meaningfully different innovation is a huge brand builder, but the journey is often overlooked as brands focus on surviving through the turmoil of war, inflation, the pandemic, climate change and tech advancements.

Given that innovation is the foundation on which strong brands are built, it’s therefore vital that brands have a practical template for their innovation approach.

Where to begin

The journey should start with identifying industry white spaces that innovation can fill, while also objectively and critically assessing existing blind spots. Unlike white spaces, blind spots are found at the periphery and are the emerging tensions, workarounds, and aspirations that will become widespread pain points if left unresolved.

As such, they offer even greater growth potential than today’s more easily recognised white spaces, because if the problem is likely to scale, so is the solution to that problem. But these fledging behaviours are difficult to identify using traditional research techniques.

To implement a successful innovation strategy, brands must get comfortable experimenting with new tools and types of learning to bring opportunities for innovation into sharper focus, and hone their skills in filtering, synthesising and unlocking connections with the insights they identify.

Developing innovations that are human-centric and right for your brand will lead to better outcomes. In the build stage, nurturing ideas through an iterative test and learn process is key. Agile research approaches can help you build strong propositions that lead to incremental and breakthrough innovations.

Test and learn

At launch, it’s important to track innovations, not just sales, in the market and continue the learning journey. It's important to have a clear understanding of how consumers are reacting, so you can pivot or learn from your success.

Many businesses confuse their day-to-day iteration with actual innovation. True innovation is to see what could be, not just what is. Without that ability to explore future possibilities, innovation gets locked into the context defined by today’s behaviours, today’s product category and today’s culture. Meaningful innovation requires an open mindset that takes those givens and extrapolates to envisage something better.

For those who think they can’t afford innovation, there’s plenty of evidence that true innovation pays for itself, also generating the kind of organic brand building and marketing effectiveness can even save money. Innovation requires failing fast, testing and learning, and bravery. But brands who get it right reap rewards. And developing meaningfully different innovation is arguably more important than ever.

Dr Nicki Morley is head of behavioural science and innovation expertise at Kantar

Image credit: Tom Merton via Getty Images