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Think BR: Creating a culture of innovation

Are brands doing enough to be different, asks Rebecca Price, managing director, Lloyd Northover.

Rebecca Price, managing director, Lloyd Northover

Rebecca Price, managing director, Lloyd Northover

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When Range Rover unveiled its choice of creative champion in Victoria Beckham a few weeks ago - the tabloid queen is responsible for the ‘hand-finished’ touch on its Evoque range - there was a bit of sniggering.

Yet to those in the know, the move is a wise one. It embodies the insight that innovation in the luxury car market is likely to come through fashion and design and will deliver bottom-line results.

Range Rover isn’t alone in doing something different from the norm. In the past month alone, Coca Cola, Phillips and Barclaycard all introduced ways of communicating that took them out of their comfort zones.

Clearly for consumer brands the culture of innovation, and to a lesser degree creativity, is pervasive.

In business-to-business too, there is nothing now more talked about. Perhaps because of dire economic challenges brands find themselves battling, businesses feel they need to do something different to be different. And yet the majority of brands appear to do so little, certainly when it comes to their business-to-business communications.

For every Range Rover, Coca Cola, et al, there are a hundred-fold business-to-business brands that sit and ponder the benefits of staying the same.

Attendees at Lloyd Northover’s roundtable last month on innovation and creativity, all of whom hold core business-to-business responsibilities, cited several objections to adoption: the ever-present fear of failure; an inability to translate a concept into a workable solution; a deep-set desire to fit in, not stand out; an inherent aversion to risk; and even boardroom egos, among others.

Certainly when it comes to branding, there is a perception that innovation has to be paradigm shifting and costly, despite the fact that brands like Range Rover and Toyota - which introduced 7,000 small innovations in the course of one year - prove that innovation can be incremental and drive bottom-line benefits.

Yet the roundtable discussion pointed to a deeper, more ingrained reason for innovation and any attendant creativity being regarded with such suspicion by the board.

We came to the conclusion that our early tendencies - our natural curiosity, our instinct for change, to take a concept, play with it and make it better, make it different - are characteristics that are washed out of us as we go through the schooling process into the even tighter straightjacket of work.

So in order for the culture of innovation to blossom, we need to understand and encourage the correlation between the creative playground and the commercial return.

Boardrooms - and marketers - need to balance real human understanding with numerical measures.

The UK isn’t alone in obsessing over measurement. Yet innovation and creativity require us to make a leap of faith, to let our instincts inform our rational thought. In short, to embrace heuristics, a common-sense, experienced-based technique for problem-solving, learning and discovery.

It would be easy to dismiss heuristics as some fluffy, nebulous philosophy, but it is worth bearing in mind that the best of us are attuned to learnings amassed from first-hand experience, the stuff of life that our instincts are built on.

It’s also worth remembering that some of the most compelling things a business can do can also be difficult to measure. Yet just because you can’t put a quantitative stake against certain elements of a business strategy, it doesn’t mean they’re not worth doing.

Think about the phrases rule of thumb, educated guess, or common sense. All of these describe instances where we trust our emotions and instincts over our rational triggers in informing our behaviour.

It’s an understanding of this balance between our rational and emotional triggers, and how they drive behavioural change - which after all, is a main objective of innovation - that is fundamental.

We know - because it has been proved repeatedly, in every recession - that a storm is the perfect time to fish. It forces self-reliance and feeds the urge to innovate through sheer commercial need.

Innovation, especially in branding, appeals as much to the emotional - the intuitive, fluid system one in heuristic parlance, that works in tandem with the rational, logical system two.

The results of appropriately balancing the two, especially in that most subliminal business tool of brand communications, are evident.

If you need further proof, look again at Range Rover: would your rational mind have thought that Victoria Beckham would make for such an effective design champion for a luxury car marque?

Rebecca Price, managing director, Lloyd Northover

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