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Opinion: Three Steps to Delivering Innovation

The role innovation plays in marketing is hugely important but we need to clearly define what innovation means for it to be widely embraced, writes Manuel Yoacham.

 Innovation in marketing and communications means so many things to so many people, that ultimately there is no consensus on what constitutes true innovation. The obfuscation of the meaning often has a negative impact on marketing activities. Meaningful innovation cannot be agreed upon.

Good ideas and great ideas get thrown out, bad ideas often boil to the surface, and the role innovation plays within a marketing mix and its contribution to the bottom line, gets lost. Agencies and brands need to define innovation, and the measurement for success of innovative ideas.

Why aren’t we bombarded by innovative campaigns or ideas? Budget is often quoted as one of the reasons. It is true that we regularly see campaigns with large media and creative budgets deliver the most impactful innovations. However, this is not a prerequisite.

For the film release of Stephen King’s “It” in 2017, Village Roadshow partnered with their agency to attach red balloons to storm drains around Sydney. Fans of the book instantly understood the imagery. Intrigued, passers-by were driven to social media by use of #ItMovie spray painted onto the footpath. Bar time invested, the budget totalled the cost of spray paint, string, and a pack of red balloons. If innovation does not have to be costly, what is the barrier to more innovation?

Like every penny spent on marketing, innovation needs to be viewed through the lens of potential return on investment (ROI), not upfront cost. ROI needs to be nurtured, worked at, and grown. This can take years to come to fruition. Consequently, it may not be right to measure it against short term objectives. However, the future focused CMO or CFO would not be to blame for thinking creativity is not providing the same return on investment it once did. Analysis of the IPA Databank (1998-2018) shows that creatively awarded campaigns are paying off less as the years go by.

Large pockets of the marketing industry are stuck (understandably) in a negative ‘short-termism’ loop. Many businesses have had virtually no choice but to slash long term, brand building budgets in favour of channels with more immediate returns.

The literature and studies from Sharp and Binet & Field clearly shows this causes an erosion of long-term brand health. As marketing budgets shift this way, so to do creative efforts. When awards are presented, a greater proportion of wins go to short term campaigns. Unfortunately, these campaigns generate fewer long lasting business effect. Consequently, it is understandable to believe that creativity impacts ROI less these days.

How then does meaningful innovation get approved? From an agency perspective, we sometimes come up with brilliant ideas with very little time to bring it to life and maximise potential ROI.

Time needs to be dedicated to innovation like a separate workstream. Once you have set aside enough time, I set myself a three-part guiding framework: C. R. S. – Constraint, Risk, and Selling.


With innovation, constraint is, somewhat counterintuitively, far better for idea generation than “blue sky” thinking, as noted in ‘Inside the Box’ by Boyd and Goldenberg. With defined rules and boundaries, we focus the mind.

The simplest thing to do is to work with your client or agency to define what innovation means, how it looks and feels, and crucially, how it is measured. This should be co-created and protected. That removes uncertainty and confusion, making it easier to discard ideas not up to the required quality parameters you have agreed.


Mitigating risk is vitally important. We tend to assume brands with deep pockets can simply afford to gamble when it comes to innovation. Though they can develop innovative ideas with greater comfort, it is a fallacy to assume the budget, and risk is not heavily scrutinised.

The real obstacle here is that return on investment of innovation is virtually impossible to predict. It could even result in a frustrating loss. Risk needs to be mitigated up front. From a media planning perspective, there are often avenues to making savings across your plans. Work these savings in early, before any presentation.

Approaching a client with an innovation price tag is much easier when a third of the cost has been covered through efficiencies. We should also be willing to put skin in the game financially against successful innovation to show how committed we are.


The final piece is the sell in. Imagine the creative agency who told their client all about an amazing campaign they were about to pitch to them, but they had just seen their client’s competitor had bet them to it. The distraught client proclaimed they wished it had been theirs. In fact, no competitor had actually done it, but that agency now had a fully bought in client.

In this example, the sell heightened the excitement and buy-in. Presenting innovations as slides in PowerPoint can do the job, but creativity in selling is just as important. Even when slides go well, they are often forwarded on to other decision makers, without the ‘sell-in’ that made them exciting. Innovative thinking requires innovative selling, at every level of decision maker.

Creativity grows business

More work needs to be done when it comes to defining innovation, the impact it has on businesses, and how we work collaboratively to get it over the line. Give yourselves the constraints and definitions needed for focus. Find ways to mitigate the risk of the cost upfront rather than bank on post-campaign effects. Finally, treat every piece of innovation like a pitch. It is often the most exciting part of campaigns, so it should be the most exciting thing presented.

As a final thought, in James Hermann’s ‘The Case for Creativity’, he analysed the business performance of the Cannes Advertiser of the Year from 1999 – 2015 compared to the companies listed in the S&P 500. The brands who won at Cannes and were known for their creativity outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of 3.5. It is time for true innovation.

Manuel Yoacham is Business Director, Starcom, part of Core


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