Lida Hujic

The concept of ‘innovation’ in respect of branding and marketing is borrowed from the ‘real’ innovation world – that of science and stand-alone innovators and entrepreneurs. But what we really mean, as brand practitioners, is facilitating a context to incite fresh thinking. Unlike the universe of nutty professors or quirky enthusiasts where the eureka moment is a product of trial and error, innovation in the brand industry is used to generate growth. Broadly speaking, it is about new product or service development (within a category as well as extending an existing brand into a new category).

There are a few ways to leverage innovation in the workplace. One of the most effective ways is to set up and have your teams involved in innovation workshops. Your workshop can be a significant process in fostering innovative thinking as part of a team. It can help fine-tune brand propositions (to be ahead of the game, to reach new markets) or problem solve (if for whatever reason a brand is not doing well, brand managers can turn to innovation workshops to find new compelling ways to address the problem).  In essence, the innovation workshop is a technique to unleash new ideas and/or solve problems.

An innovation workshop can be implemented as part of a process or a stand-alone solution. It is primarily designed for stakeholders (client and/or agency teams) as ways of getting them to think outside the box to confront a given challenge. As an explorative method to gather knowledge upon which to make decisions, there are echoes of the ‘trial and error’ mentality intrinsic to scientific innovation in that not all ideas generated at the workshop will be used. In fact, most will be chucked out. The best will become the concepts that will be acted upon. As such, the innovation workshop is less about ideas per se and more about actionable results.

Who Should be Involved?
Currently in the research industry (this includes articles on RW Connect), there appears to be a lot of buzz about ‘co-creation’. In the universe of insight-led strategy, ‘co-creation’ has been around for while: specifically, employing a collaborative approach with consumers towards developing new ideas by enrolling them at the early stages of brand development. I remember working on such briefs for Blue Chip companies (notably P&G) already in the mid-noughties. Co-creation was new to them then, by their own admission, but once tested and approved, their teams went on resorting to various forms of ‘co-creation’ more routinely. The point here not being about what part of the industry is more cutting edge, we need to consider techniques and methodologies in terms of their value for money.

I have since learnt that ‘co-creation’ has many merits but incorporating consumers (that is representative samples recruited by using a spec) into an innovation workshop is not one of them. To clarify, a strategic innovation project needs some ‘inspiration’ to kick off. By definition, innovation is about projecting ahead. That kind of future looking intelligence is not what Average Jo consumer can come up with (nor is it really their ‘problem’). And, there is no stimulus in the world that will trigger that spark. Jo Extraordinaire, on the other hand, can help. This is why it’s good to resort to individuals for whom the future has already happened. Spend some time with them, gather frontier knowledge that they will effortless provide (it is the job of the workshop facilitator to ensure that happens) and watch the ideas flow.

Once you get a sense of direction, then by all means, bring in the consumers, which is why I said earlier that ‘innovation’ type briefs are often a process. The innovation workshop kick starts that process. Consumers are best brought in, in the next stage. (Of course, this all depends on the actual project scope – if stages are not a possibility, then I would favour enlisting cutting edge individuals rather than ‘consumers’.)

Other than generating new concepts, another value associated with the innovation workshop comes from bringing different people (and by extension perspectives) under one roof and have them working towards a common goal. Working collaboratively is key. This is why, somewhat inadvertently, the innovation workshop can also fulfill the function of a team bonding exercise. To tease the best potential out of participants and harness their talent, innovation workshops work best when people are outside their comfort zone (in environments conducive to being creative). But they must not feel uncomfortable for that matter. Here, the role of the facilitator is paramount. It’s part tactical (using various methods of engagement, which taps into the art and skill of devising workshops) and part personality (let’s face it, some moderators have more charisma than others).

The most productive innovation workshops are the ‘2 in 1’ kind – generating great ideas while fostering team bonding through a sense of communal achievement. If participants walk out feeling ‘wow’, that’s what’s called a result.

Dr Lida Hujić is a brand strategist. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book The First to Know: How Hipsters and Mavericks Shape the Zeitgeist.