Innovation is Relative. Don’t Let it Move your Business Backwards

The following is a guest post by Greg Hickman, a mobile marketing consultant and founder of

Have you ever been in a meeting where you’re told your ideas are not “innovative” enough?

“We just need to be more innovative” the meeting organizer says.

Your boss chimes in, “I’ve seen other people doing something similar, Let’s come up with something more cutting edge.”

You sit there and nod your head in disgust because you know that others are focused on new shiny objects vs delivering true results.

Let me tell you, “Cutting edge” can mean many different things based on what type of business you have and what industry your business is in. If you worry too much about what others are doing, you can never focus on what you SHOULD be doing.

For example, Coca-Cola’s view of “innovation” is a lot different than that of a small business. Before we dive any deeper let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when defining “innovation”.

Merriam-Webster defines “innovation” as

  1. The introduction of something new
  2. A new idea, method or device”

Pretty simple right?

Let me ask you a question. Do you receive emails or texts from your local mall?

See, I help a network of 300 shopping centers incorporate mobile marketing into their marketing strategy and let me tell you, they just got used to sending their own email newsletters within the last few years.

They just started using SMS to connect with shoppers and drive them to mall with exclusive offers yet brands have been tapping into SMS for nearly a decade.

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Email and SMS have been around for years, that’s not innovative. Well my friend,  depending on the type of client you have:

Innovation is relative and it may even drive your business backwards.

See, innovation is relative to the industry, the type of business and to those operating the business.

Let’s look at Email and SMS marketing. Although these aren’t new technologies, when a small business (such as the shopping centers i mentioned) introduce them to their customers, it’s new.

It’s a new method for their customers to connect with them.  It doesn’t matter that their customers may have been receiving text’s from Coca-Cola or Target for the last few years. For them, it’s new. and their customers receive better experiences.

As marketers, we need to help our clients realize that innovation doesn’t equal results.

In fact, Jeff Hasen recently wrote about “why savvy marketers won’t bet on new shiny objects” reflecting on a recent event in NY where dozens of savvy marketers joined together to share knowledge and learnings.

Jeff said: “Each brought impressive mobile success stories, none of which included the use of a so-called “shiny object” or a product sprinkled by pixie dust at South By Southwest this past spring. These pros know that none of those types of products and services will move a business. In fact, if anything, they will move a business backward.”

The brands that were discussed were those such as Ford and Macy’s that have generated big results leveraging SMS, mobile websites and even QR codes.

Earlier this year, Tom Daly of Coca-Cola shared that that 70% of their mobile strategy is built around effectiveness.

“Once you focus 70% of your strategy on effectiveness, you can put 20% towards efforts that tie into your overall mission and leave the last 10% for trying new things:…read innovation”

The biggest mistake I’ve seen businesses make when getting started in mobile marketing is trying to replicate the success of bigger brands, when it’s really just the 10% of innovation getting the press.

You have to do a little bit of digging to find that Ford saw a 15.4 percent lead conversion by including an SMS mobile component to dollars already being spent.

When Coke looks at the mobile landscape and realizes that just over 50% of the US has smartphones, “SMS is still the most effective way to reach a consumer.”

“ It is important to invest your energy into things you know works, and we know that SMS works and it is a thing to focus on,” Mr. Daly said.

Coca-Cola has developed 30-40 apps but they still find SMS to be one of the main workhorses in their mobile strategy.  Yet, many business still want to jump into mobile by building an app.

Now, I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t try to be innovative. Innovation is very important BUT it has its place and it shouldn’t be the core focus of your business.

Focus on what works for YOUR business because your customers are not always going to be the same as all the brands you read about.

Don’t be ashamed if your business is just getting started with mobile and leveraging technologies like SMS or email marketing (if you’re really far behind. 😉 )

Just because it’s not the sexiest solution doesn’t mean it won’t drive significant results for your business. If it’s new for you and to your customers to connect through a new channel….guess what. You’re innovating.

So before you jump into mobile and try to replicate tactics from the big boys make sure you’ve done your homework. Make sure the strategies you implement can drive the results you’re looking for. That means define your goals up front. Even Coca-Cola got started small.

Don’t get caught focusing 90% of your efforts on something that even the biggest brands spend only 10% of their time on. Innovation will always be relative to your own business. Don’t allow another brands level of innovation keep your business from moving forwards.

Don’t be afraid to fail and start by building your mobile strategy around effectiveness.

Are you guilty of letting innovation by other companies steer you down the wrong path? If so, I’d love it if you shared your story with results  in the comments below.

About the Author:

Greg Hickman is the founder and host of, a mobile marketing talk show and blog resource where he’s interviewed the top mobile marketers such as Jeff Hasen of HipCricket, Louis Gump of CNN and Jonathan Stephen of JetBlue. Get email updates on the latest episodes by signing up here.

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