• 10.22.12

Why Innovation Is About More Than Bright Ideas

While many people make no distinction between creativity and innovation, in reality there is a huge difference between the two. Here’s how to tell which one you’ve got.

Why Innovation Is About More Than Bright Ideas

While many people make no distinction between creativity and innovation, in reality there is a huge difference between the two. Not all bright ideas are innovative, even if they appear to be quite creative. And being a game-changer, not creativity, is what makes the difference between a market-altering product and one that has limited appeal.


In terms of business and commerce, a creative idea stops short of being groundbreaking if consumers aren’t willing to buy the resulting product or service readily and enthusiastically. Innovation pulls multiple threads together for consumers (quality, usefulness, coolness, look, feel, price, and life-enhancement). While creativity may be unique and even admired, it may not captivate others in a big enough way to change the marketplace. Or, it may not offer benefits that shift the market.

It may be an extraordinary expression of an idea that goes no further than a single manifestation. There is an old advertising adage that says, “it’s not creative unless it sells,” meaning that the primary purpose of advertising is to sell a product or service, not win creative awards. If the product doesn’t sell, then it doesn’t matter how creative the advertisement is. “Where’s the Beef?” was a widely successful ad campaign for Wendy’s, but it was pulled due to quality issues at the chain in 1985.

Kanye West got it when he said, “The concept of commercialism in the fashion and art world is looked down upon. You know, just to think, ‘What amount of creativity does it take to make something that masses of people like?’ And, ‘How does creativity apply across the board?’” Creativity for business is not just discovering the new and different, but turning it into something powerful and persuasive that motivates people to open up their wallets.

Making a connection between ideas and consumer wants, needs, fears, and dreams is essential if marketers want to achieve success. It’s not enough to compete on price alone, because a competitor can always undercut that price. Today’s consumers are willing to pay more for something if they love it, especially if they see value that it’s a great product. Why are people paying hundreds of dollars for an iPhone when there are perfectly good phones available at a much lower cost? When the economy begins to rebound, firms that have relied on price cutting instead of innovating won’t have anything new to offer. New ideas that sell are needed every day to satisfy customer demands, enter new markets, gain competitive advantage, or even just to keep pace with the competition.

When a company hits on something that resonates instantly with people, magic happens. Consumer buy-in at that point seems almost ridiculously easy, like it was with the iPad, Swiffer, and Target’s designer clothing collaborations when the affordably priced Missoni line sold out in less than 15 minutes in Chicago and New York stores and crashed their website with consumer demand.

The distinction between creativity and groundbreaking also applies to marketers who are trying to use social media to connect with customers. Being creative is not just coming up with a great gimmick. During this year’s Super Bowl, Toyota thought it was being creative when it came up with a Twitter campaign for the Camry. The intent was to engage users with Tweets to the effect of “Ready for Sunday? Make sure you’ve entered for your chance to win a 2012 Camry!” The effect was that there was no engagement and consumers simply felt they were being bombarded with unsolicited messages.


Innovation is getting consumers to do something by taking advantage of personal communication technologies. Social media strategies need to include consideration of the relationship, the type of message, the technological object (smartphone, computer, notepad, etc.) that is delivering the message, and timing. Together these components form a strong, viable structure. Old marketing theories and creative forms don’t fit into this new communications mechanism, which requires a unique understanding of symbolic and cultural meanings of the technological device and, particularly, timing, to sell differently. A new kind of inventiveness must join with creativity to draw crowds and change purchase behaviors.

A great example of innovation in social media was the promotion behind the movie The Hunger Games, which included Facebook contests, Twitter scavenger hunts, a Tumblr blog called Capitol Couture, iPhone games, and YouTube videos. One Twitter promotion even allowed fans to campaign online to become mayor of various districts in the movie’s society, Panem. This was truly innovative thinking in building relationships and making fans become members of an imaginary society to drive movie attendance, creating involvement instead of annoyance.

Creativity in marketing today means finding the social media influencers as well as those capable of being influenced, building relationships, and engaging potential customers much earlier in the consumer relationship. It means thinking about the delivery form for the message–the object which will shape the message and perception of the brand. Social marketers today need to break the rules of traditional communication streams, manage their communities differently, and become truly innovative instead of just relying on creativity to alter the market and sell their product.

–Debra Kaye is partner, innovator and cultural strategist at Lucule Consulting. She is author of the book Stop Brainstorming, Start Innovating: The Five Threads that Lead to Brilliant Ideas and Profitable Business. Jure Klepic is partner, social media innovator and personal media strategist at Lucule Consulting. Kaye and Klepic are working with companies to shine a brighter light on brands worldwide.

[Image: Flickr user Eric Murray]