business wants to be seen as innovative, as a company that leads and creates new trends, , but what are the solid business imperatives and values behind maintaining an inventive, creative culture? 

Are businesses aimlessly chasing ‘The Next Big Thing’ when they should be concentrating on the day to day running of the company?

Even if you do decide to chase those ideas that make the cut, is innovation something you can really ‘plan’? Or should you put your faith in an agile working environment and leap on the ad-hoc opportunities?

We asked a range of contributors to tell us why innovation deserves to be at the core of any business model.

Is innovation in your organisation driven by a creative, ad-hoc desire to develop something new, or a strategic need to develop and improve existing services?

Unsurprisingly, a large number of those who answered believed a healthy mix of planning and leaps of faith were key to creating successful new models.

Luca Benini is European MD at Buddy Media. He explained how this mix had helped the company evolve and compete:

I think it’s a little bit of both. Buddy Media doesn’t ever want to settle or rest on our laurels. We always want to improve the way brands power their connections. New social networks pop up and pick up rapid adoption, current networks release new features, and we are always on top of what’s going on.

Is some of our innovation strategic? Yes, but more importantly there is a strong desire among all of our employees to always work to create something better.

This was a sentiment echoed by Tina Judic, Managing Director of performance marketing agency Found, She told us how Found pursue this double-edged approach:

It’s very much a balance between the two. It’s imperative that we are always challenging ourselves to be the best in our current service disciplines. As the digital space moves so quickly, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. However innovation does not always have to be a huge investment into a piece of technology, a piece of research. It can be testing new ways to manage a campaign or plugging in new tools to complement the existing dataset to create a powerful combination.  

Conversely, we do have a focus on product and service expansion – from providing clients with a powerful, interactive reporting platform such as ProFound to the creation of sound thought-leading SEO strategies.

Despite a strong belief in maintaining an agile mindset in order to exploit new opportunities as they present themselves, many commentors also felt that it was important to have a strong strategic impetus for innovation, weighting investment to support long-term growth.

Auto Trader’s Mobile Director Nick Gee was one of many who promoted this approach:

Consistently strategic. We are the largest automotive site in the UK online and now also on mobile, but our origins were print. This wasn’t luck! It’s a great example of developing and improving our core business of bringing car buyer and seller together.

Over the last 30 years we’ve innovated in print and digital based on the technologies that make up buyers and sellers daily lives. It’s in our DNA.

 Ken Leung of Euclid Elements

Innovation in our organisation is driven by the strategic need to develop our existing product to better serve our clients and wider client base. Every step we take is designed to provide some sort of value to our now or future clients.  

We are encouraged to take all reasonable ideas and bring them to natural conclusion; that is quickly determining both the viability and value of the idea to our clients.

Luke Griffiths, General Manager UK, e-Dialog:

Innovation is the result of both creativity and strategy. Our clients provide us with a brief for their marketing communications, and we take this and apply the best solution for their needs. Our team will take the brief and generate the ideas that allow them to best communicate the brand messages – for example, pulling live data into email or creating mobile specific emails that capitalise on the capabilities of the latest smartphones.

The strategic team will look at the brief and identify where there are further opportunities to boost the campaign, once the creative ideas are in place through the use of clever data and analytics. A combination of both is essential.

Despite this, several of our Innovation Awards shortlist felt that you shouldn’t lose sight of the here and now. It’s important to have bigger-picture goals in sight, but you should always be prepared to grasp an unexpected opportunity.

This may seem counter-intuitive, particularly for larger organisations, but it can yield positive results, and give your efforts a welcome short-term boost.  

BMF are one company that understands this and have successfully managed to make both important. Its Interactive Concepts Director Aaron Michie had this to say: 

We have a strategic focus on constant innovation, but in reality the ad-hoc opportunities seem to be the ones that most often lead to innovation projects getting off the ground.

While Edward Cowell, SEO Director at Guava UK added: 

Innovation at Guava is driven by both a creative, ad-hoc desire to develop something new, and a consistent strategic need to develop and improve existing services and products.

Whichever route you choose, the common consensus was that the environment and the people you choose will be the main catalyst, and a business needs to be prepared to allow a certain freedom across the board.

It’s important to reiterate that good ideas can come from the most unexpected sources, so truly innovative companies need to maintain an open mind. Jonathan Cook is head of new media at Valtech. His comments summed this up nicely: 

Innovation at Valtech is driven by people who are passionate about their subject.  The organisation supports people to innovate, but in truth it’s the people who are the catalyst for new ideas, rather than the organisation defining pre-defined business goals for innovation.

What are your secrets to maintaining an innovative, open working environment ?

Our questions revealed that larger organisations sometimes struggle to work quickly, despite larger budgets, with their innovative efforts more likely to be focused on long-term gain, rather than the quick win which SME’s used to distinguish themselves in a crowded market.

In a future post, we’ll be looking more closely at this and seeing if very large organisations can truly innovate, or are destined to fulfil a ‘broadcast’ role, bringing new concepts to larger audiences. 

Econsultancy’s 2012 Innovation Awards celebrate those businesses and individuals who are helping shape the future marketing landscape. We’ll be hosting the awards in London on February 23rd.

Click here to see this years entire shortlist and book your table for the night. We promise it will be a great party!