Marketing can mean a lot of different things, but most people agree it’s about communicating the value of your product or service. Many startup founders begin their journey convinced that anyone can see the value of their product just by looking at it. Those blinders often remain in place; in the end, some startups that fail do so because there’s not a real market need for their offering.
By investigating this disparity between perception and reality, it becomes clear that marketers must do more than simply capture customers’ attention — they must get behind the wheel of innovation and drive companies in a purposeful and promising direction. Here’s how to build marketing into an innovation engine in order to produce products that people actually want.
1. Bring marketers in early.
Your marketing team’s efforts shouldn’t be solely focused on what’s needed once an innovative new product or service is ready to launch. Instead, whether your product development team is looking to enter a new market or wanting to make a splash in an existing one, your marketing team should be there to lend expertise during the earliest stages of development. “Marketing is not an order-taking group,” says Dara Treseder, CMO of Carbon, a 3D printing and digital manufacturing company. “Marketing has a real seat at the table.”
With the marketing team involved in driving product development, innovation extends past products to include how a company is perceived by customers. Use your marketing team to provide insight into how your innovation will fit into what customers need and want. Put them on research-oriented tasks, and ask for their perspective on how an idea impacts actual customer needs.
2. Give marketers the resources they need.
Too many organizations allocate maximum resources to their R&D departments but hamstring marketing budgets at every turn. Looking at advertising spend allows us to get a general idea of how corporate attitudes toward marketing are trending. While R&D and advertising budgets were more comparable in the 1970s, research published in Harvard Business Review found that the money firms allocate to R&D today outpaces that of advertising “dramatically.”
Especially in fast-moving areas like tech, R&D is undoubtedly important, but the marketing department also has a vital role to play in enabling innovation. Reallocating even a small amount of your budget to your marketing team can truly encourage innovation. Over time, you’ll see the benefits firsthand. For instance, cosmetics maker Colorbar has upped its marketing spend significantly, which has resulted in growth of more than 40%. Company founder and CEO Samir Modi projects that “if our plan, in terms of brand rejuvenation, works out, we could see a growth of 50%.”
3. Put marketing data to effective use.
As great as it might appear at first glance, there’s no such thing as a perfect idea. Some product concepts might not be an exact fit for the existing market, while some very marketable ideas might not be a good fit for your organization. In either case, these are determinations that your marketing department is well-positioned to make. To take the first step in vetting an idea, conduct a SWOT analysis that takes into account your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Internal strengths and weaknesses will, in some ways, dictate the type of product your company can produce. If your organization is particularly adept at developing software but has little experience in manufacturing, prioritize innovation in the more familiar space. Next, identify external factors as either opportunities or threats. There may be a host of existing companies already occupying the space you want to innovate into, or perhaps you’ve identified a market need that’s currently vacant. Again, these are questions your marketing team can investigate. After you conduct your SWOT analysis, build a product development roadmap that takes your findings into account.
In organizations — especially growing businesses — where marketers have to fight for every dollar, it will take a fundamental culture shift to encourage marketing-led innovation. It takes time and resources to incorporate marketing into a formerly separate function, but the potential payoff is massive. With an involved marketing department, your innovation team will be more informed than ever — and your entire organization will benefit.