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Innovation: Do it or Die

Innovation is more than just a buzzword (yes, it is a buzzword).  The phrase, “if you’re not growing you’re dying” means that businesses need to consistently introduce new ways of thinking about old problems.  For example, a friend who owns a printing company recently launched a mobile app to deliver high quality prints of photos shot on smartphones because many of his core printing products had become commoditized.  Suddenly, people had multiple cost-effective options for high-quality printed products.  He knew he needed to innovate by reaching a new market using a new method and a different platform.  Similarly, companies innovate by developing new products for existing customers.  Here are six steps to kickstart your innovation.

Step 1 – Competitive Analysis

What are your competitors doing well and where are they failing?  Browsing their website, searching for them on social media sites, visiting their brick and mortar stores or buying their products will inspire new ideas for product and marketing development.  Develop a simple spreadsheet with notes about key areas of each competitor’s strategy.  We recommend including direct competitors as well as aspirational competitors, companies you aspire to be like in the future.  For example, McDonald’s may view Burger King and Culver’s as direct competitors but aspirational competitors could include In N Out Burger, for their cult following, and Shake Shack, for their upscale pricing and all-natural ingredients.  Identify gaps with competitors and your current offering by asking the question, “What problem needs to be solved?”.

Step 2 – Product Quadrant: Make a Plan

When determining how to innovate, use this simple product quadrant.


Ansoff Matrix


Do you want to enter a new market with an old product, launch a new product to an existing market, or both?

Thinking through the market, customer segment and product ahead of time will help ignite promotional and marketing ideas later.


Step 3 – Brainstorm with the team

Amazing, absurd, and incredible ideas form during brainstorming sessions.  Brainstorming can be a simple huddle inside the office or an offsite retreat in a creative or inspiring location.  Either way, there is  tremendous benefit to listening and sharing ideas with the people who know the business best.  Inviting agency and supply partners can also help to inspire creativity and promote idea sharing.
At the end of the brainstorming session, everyone attending should agree on next steps and action items.  Be sure to have one attendee responsible for taking notes and following up with a clear plan post-session.


Step 4 – Who will buy this and why?

Now that the hard part is done, it’s time to clearly define the audience. Create personas for the key demographics in order to fully determine the target for marketing messages.  Creating specific descriptions of each persona will assist in deciding attributes like search keywords, ad copy, content types, digital marketing platforms, social media channels and budgets.  When creating personas, be specific by asking questions like these:



  • What is the age and gender of this persona?
  • Does he/she have a family?
  • What is his/her educational background?
  • What is his/her job?
  • What does it take for this persona to be successful?
  • What does he/she do in his/her free time?
  • Where does he/she shop or look for information?

Step 5 – MVP

Now that there is a clear idea and a target audience, move forward by developing a plan to create a prototype for a minimum viable product (MVP).  As defined by Eric Ries in the popular book The Lean Startup, the MVP solves a problem that has been identified and can be refined based  on validated learning.

Solicit customer feedback on the prototype using surveys and evaluations.  Continue to refine the product or service based on marketplace learnings.


Step 6 – Marketing Momentum

Once the product or service has been validated, it’s time to go to market.  Create a marketing plan that includes different types of marketing to reach your target audiences.Marketing innovation Mine Map  Think outside the box about ways to create compelling, interesting ways for customers to learn more.

Advertising and PR are traditional approaches while more creative ideas include presentations at conferences, eBooks, white papers and social media.

Utilizing this framework can rejuvenate a team by forming a collaborative way to reach new markets and create unique products.  The key is to eliminate hurdles and hindrances by being agile and fast rather than getting bogged down by bureaucracy and indecisiveness.  Endless meetings and debates over minor issues stifle creativity and squelch innovation.  Rather, teamwork and idea sharing encourages this inventive approach and  moves businesses out of mediocrity and into superiority.


This article was written by: Kelly Cutler, CEO and Founder of Kona Company.

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