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At Econsultancy, alongside best practice, we love to see innovation and creativity within the marketing sphere. Interestingly, it seems that as companies are increasingly scrutinising budgets and resources, the assumption is made that the room for manoeuvring in this way is restricted.
I disagree. The upside of a recession is that it forces people to adapt, get smart and succeed.
Innovation was one of the subjects up for discussion last week when Econsultancy hosted its Traveling Geeks roundtables for a delegation of US technology experts and bloggers who visited London.
The 'geeks' sitting on the innovation roundtable included Robert Scoble, Sarah Lacy, Renee Blodgett and Tom Foremski, who joined representatives from companies and agencies including Channel 4, lastminute.com, Adobe, Warner Music, OMD and Poke.
The following considerations should help guide you in generating time and resources to help you to digitally innovate your way through the recession. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so please add more pointers in the comments box.
Nurture talent: This is self explanatory and pretty much common sense. If you’re good to your staff, they’ll be good to you, especially in being loyal, going the extra mile for the company and coming up with great ideas. The age old idiom 'a company is only as good as its employees' really rings true.
Looking after the people you have will really help drive your organisation forwards and challenge competitors. Innovative people will walk away from your company if they feel their creativity is being stifled.
Consider risks: Risk is a massive element of business at any given time, but this is more evident in a recession. Being innovative means taking chances and dealing with the consequences.
As discussed at the roundtable, consensus can be an enemy of innovation because, collectively, organisations will often go for the safe and conservative option (especially when they are over-run with lawyers).
As soon as companies reach a certain size, it can be difficult to maintain an innovative culture although online shoe retailer Zappos was cited as a company which has worked hard to make sure that it keeps its ethos.
One company represented at the roundtable has a policy which says that each employee involved with innovation needs to launch something which fails.
Don’t neglect: Innovation is important, but so are the channels that you know can make you money. It’s a standard business life-cycle of growth. Make money, invest a proportion into innovating, see what works, use it to grow.
Take any profit and put it back into making more revenue, but put some back into innovation.
Culture shock: Don’t panic if you’re seeing sudden profit drops or instability in your market. Unfortunately, this is the culture of a recession, so go native: don’t lose your nerve and start slashing budgets and strategies all over the place.
Sit back and carefully look at the overall picture: what are you wasting resources on? Where are the current opportunities for growth? This will help you place a greater focus on the areas you need to be approaching creatively.
Strategise: Stop and think about what you want your objectives to be. Develop short and long-term business plans. Just because you’re suddenly being forced to adapt a defensive stance, doesn’t mean you have to... Go on the attack instead! Don’t neglect innovation by squeezing costs, just figure out if you can change budgets somehow.
Invest: Investing when times are bad often means that the rewards will be greater when times are good. This is especially true if you’re investing in tech. From social media to paid search, there’s an increasing reliance upon technology. This in itself can save you money, but will also mean you can place yourself competitively in your market and divert other resources into different channels.
R&D: Now is the time for research and development! Just think: if your competitors are panicking and cutting back in these two important areas, this will place you way ahead of the pack, as you’ll be able to offer new products or services and they won’t. Not actively engaging in these areas during an economic downturn will have a crippling impact when growth returns and the marketplace attracts more consumers.
Economic downturns do end. And, over time, it’s been proven that winners do emerge from them - almost always on the basis of new, innovative products, services or marketing techniques that cripple their competitors.
For examples of innovation in the digital world, check out our Innovation Report which we will be updating later this year.