Marketing’s role in driving innovation and growth

The most innovative brands grow faster than their peers. And, according to experts at a roundtable discussion hosted by Raconteur, the marketing function has an important role to play

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‘Cut through the noise’ may be a well-worn marketing imperative, but it’s arguably more important than ever. As attention spans dwindle, news cycles shorten and rivals pop up from all angles, few companies can afford to be complacent. 

To innovate and grow, companies need to push the boat out and do something notable – whether that’s developing a unique product, finding an innovative way to reach their audience or tackling an important social issue. Often it’s those brands that develop a joined-up strategy to cover all of these areas that make the biggest impact. 

Raconteur recently invited three senior marketing professionals to discuss how brands can stay at the forefront of innovation, and why marketing has a crucial role to play here.

Staying at the forefront of innovation

Ben Carter is the global chief customer and marketing officer of Carwow, an online marketplace for trading cars. As a scale-up that’s pivoted with the market, he says that Carwow is no stranger to innovation. The company has transformed from a review site to a lead generation site to a business that enables customers to sell a car directly from their driveway. 

“The industry is still far behind, with only 2% of car sales done online at the moment in the UK,” he says. “So, there are these industries that are ripe for disruption and transformation. And that’s what’s great about being a marketer in those types of industries where you are literally driving consumer change.” 

So, how can brands develop a culture of innovation? Kristen Cavallo, CEO of creative advertising agency MullenLowe Global, says that organisations are what they celebrate. “At MullenLowe, we talk about having a spirit of positive dissatisfaction and those terms are put together on purpose because the dissatisfaction is what motivates you to ask ‘why?’ or ‘what’s next?’”

She explains that big disruptions to the status quo don’t come from the major players who are already winning the game by the rules they defined. “You need the revolution to come from the sidelines. It’s usually someone asking the question: ‘Could this be better? Could it be different?’ And then those brands move the whole category forward and change everything.” 

Victoria Gold is marketing director for Just Eat in the UK and Ireland, another company that knows firsthand how innovation can disrupt an industry. “We’ve definitely been on a journey,” she says. “We were the original market disruptors moving food ordering offline to online. And over the last six years, in particular, that market has grown massively. It’s become more competitive, dynamic and complex, and food delivered on demand is now the norm.”

Demonstrating Cavallo’s point about pushing the category forward, Gold explains that the company has constantly developed the customer proposition to keep one step ahead. This has also included opening up new categories in grocery, as well as in retail more broadly. “We’ve really innovated and step-changed our marketing engine according to that,” she says. “So looking at our data, our tech and targeting capabilities, and evolving our marketing and media mix to show up with the right customer proposition on the right channels at the right time.”

A new recipe for success 

As an agency lead, Cavallo gets a broader insight into brand innovation and has seen just how valuable the right advertising strategy can be. “It’s funny because I think advertising has been around for so long that people don’t always give it credit for innovation,” she says. “But the ways we reach people have changed massively. Consumer motivations have changed too.” 

Cavallo explains that awareness was originally the most accurate predictor of success. Then, it shifted to preference. Now, the most accurate predictor of sales success is relevance and talk value. 

Naturally then, given its unique capacity to respond quickly and capture the cultural zeitgeist, the marketing function can have a crucial role to play in the potential success of a business. “You can try something new in the morning and you can return the next day and already see the impact,” Carter says. 

I believe marketing is one of the strongest tools that a client has in their arsenal

Cavallo agrees that there is great value in an innovative marketing team that’s unafraid to work fast and experiment, adding that there’s little risk in this approach if the brand stays true to itself. “I believe marketing is one of the strongest tools that a client has in their arsenal. And I don’t think most of them are wielding it like the sword that it is,” she says. “Our timelines are much faster with little downside. If you try something in a tweet and it falls flat, that’s rarely fatal. There should be a lot more experimentation because the downside is relatively minimal.”

However, Gold stresses that firms must strike a balance between keeping their finger on the pulse and maintaining a strategic focus. The challenge lies in “capitalising on opportunities in the here and now, but also ensuring that we keep building that longer-term brand vision, so that we can evolve constantly and drive the desired behavioural changes among consumers”. 

Carter adds: “Marketing’s role is to continue to not only innovate and to make sure that we are relevant in all channels but also make sure that we don’t leave the customer behind.”

Shaping the narrative

The right advertising can buy time between product innovations by communicating where a brand is headed, according to Cavallo. “Tech brands are famous for talking about innovations that they will do later. This means they often get the credit even if they weren’t the first to do it,” she says. 

This can have a significant impact on brand impact, perception and value. “Every year Fast Company does an issue of the most innovative brands in the world, and this year several of the top ten companies were there because of their marketing, not necessarily because they changed their products,” says Cavallo. She gives the example of Tiffany’s, which, despite selling a product that is essentially millions of years old, found itself at the top of the innovation list for celebrity advertising campaigns. 

Gold and Carter both agree that product and marketing teams need to work carefully together on innovation. Gold believes that the secret to success today is a joined-up strategy, where departments are innovating in sync to solve customer problems and provide the most seamless end-to-end customer experience. “This is going to be a challenge for lots of brands, but I think there’s a huge opportunity there,” she says. “Those that can do it the fastest will probably grow the quickest.” 

So how do brands ensure they’re always ahead of the curve? “It’s not about innovating once and then calling it a day. It’s about leaning in all the time,” says Cavallo. Successful brands understand that it’s not about a one-off innovation, but a perpetual commitment to pushing boundaries, collaborating strategically and experimenting fearlessly.

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