Marketing teams often feel under pressure when brand planning season comes around to spontaneously plug gaps in the innovation pipeline they know have been looming all year.
This led us to thinking about how marketers can stay focussed, avoid the pressure to ideate, and what to do instead.
Often there’s an expectation that the brand plan presentation will include a fully fleshed-out roadmap of product launches, re-launches and campaigns stretching out over the next one to five years, which can easily lead to a flurry of ad hoc brainstorming sessions with any available colleagues. This in turn can result in an inadvertent airing of unripe, or unsubstantiated ideas in presentations to senior management, that can be difficult to back-up or back-track on.
So what to do when you find yourself in a patchy pipeline situation?
1. Forget the ideas, define the problem
The problem with last-minute ideation sessions, as Braden Kelley, author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire puts it, is that;
“Brainstorming doesn’t drive innovation. Ideas don’t lead to innovation success. Innovation success comes from connecting with customers in meaningful ways, and this requires that you develop a unique, valuable customer insight before you even begin generating ideas”
See more at: Innovation Excellence
Solution: Resist the urge to emergency ideate! Invest available brand-planning time to identify and capture opportunity platforms resulting from real insights into unmet & genuine consumer needs. (See our previous article on Mining For Innovation Ideas Within Your Wider Business) If necessary, get new insight. Find the problems that need solving…current and future. Defining the problems and the questions needed to ask in order to solve them will automatically guide your next steps post brand plan.
In the meantime, resist the urge to schedule loose NPD ideas to the roadmap and instead map the opportunity areas you want to innovate against.
2. Focus on pipeline strategy, not pipeline filling focus
The problem with scheduling ideation as a once yearly event to feed into the brand planning cycle is that it doesn’t work: Many markets and categories move faster than the 12-18month gap between ideation workshops. Spotting market opportunities and gaps therefore has to be an ongoing, rolling process to stay ahead of the game.
Solution: It’s a good idea to untie the innovation process from the brand-planning cycle to facilitate this. Rather than filling a patchy pipeline slide, use brand planning discussions as an opportunity to distil and align with senior management on a new strategy for innovation moving forward. (Read our post on The Basics of Innovation Strategy)
3. NPD is not the answer to everything
Not every strategic issue or opportunity can be solved with new product innovation. That may sound obvious, but it can be tempting for marketers to give too much focus to presenting shiny new product and communication ideas in their plans.
Solution: A good brand plan identifies the full spectrum of brand-related business issues and opportunity areas and prioritises them according to the size of prize of tackling them. Doing so will naturally result in an action plan of strategic imperatives, of which only a couple might be NPD related.
Even within the realm of “product”, fixing existing products, tightening up range differentiation and positioning, addressing packaging stand-out and communication can provide equally meaningful rewards for the brand and longer-term added value for the business.
It’s also helpful to remember that “Innovation” means more than “lots of NPD”. Innovation is finding creative solutions that make a meaningful difference to the consumer/shopper/ customer whilst also adding value to the business.
4. The above not helpful?
If presenting a burgeoning NPD roadmap during brand plan presentations is a non-negotiable but the clock is ticking, consider bringing in the cavalry and briefing an excellent agency that specialises in innovation consultancy!