Innovation: The Dirtiest Word in Business

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In our latest Point of View, “The Dirtiest Word In Business,” Airfoil has assembled a collective set of best practices to help technology marketers meet the communications challenges of a new digital decade.

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Innovation: The Dirtiest Word in Business

  1. 1. Airfoil POV The Dirtiest Word in Business By Airfoil Public Relations
  2. 2. Airfoil POV // Innovation Why are so many communicators these days chomping on the hand that feeds our economy? Bring up the word “innovation” and, in some quarters, you’re likely to hear grumbling. You may even hear that promoting innovation doesn’t work or is no longer “fashionable.” This, at a time when business leaders acknowledge that innovation has been the principle and practice that has led us away from the edge of economic cataclysm, time and time again. Why has innovation become such a dirty word for some audiences? Airfoil’s point of view is that innovation as a business concept has been the victim of bad press, hype and abuse. To our core, we communicators recognize that innovation is crucial to business growth and the nation’s economic health; but, frankly, on both the public relations and marketing sides, we have done a lousy job of cutting through the clutter surrounding the innovation story. Back in the day—10 to 15 years ago—we drenched the stock market in theoretical innovation. Hey, we don’t have any way to monetize this Web site or any market for this gadget, but, boy, it’s innovative—so invest now before you miss the boat. Well, too often, the boat sank, and it took the concept of innovation as a fresh idea down to the bottom with it. Today, even an attempt 2
  3. 3. Airfoil POV // Innovation to promote a company, a product, a business model, or a process as “innovative” may cause a distrustful and hype-saturated marketplace to turn away. Business communicators are, in effect, being accused of innovation-washing. Pumping up the volume on innovation is causing the word to lose its credibility as a meaningful concept for many. Misguided, noisy applications of the term have degraded its reputation. Just because innovation has been overhyped, however, doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that many businesses today are thriving because they were founded on and continue to bloom with innovation. Microsoft, FedEx, Amazon, Apple, Intel, JetBlue, 3M and YouTube are all big, successful names in innovation. And all across America, much smaller emerging companies are producing valuable, game-changing products and business models that are defining innovation in everything from electric cars and wind power to entertainment venues and mobile phone apps. Are all these companies doomed to shout only into the wind? Is there any way whatsoever to make claims of innovation believable today? Can innovation be saved? Of course not and absolutely! At Airfoil we believe that communicators can best project the innovation of their software, devices or services if they stop screaming and begin engaging. The second decade of the 21st century is about building relationships, rather than pushing out claims adorned with “new,” “improved,” “best,” or even “better.” We need to find and initiate conversations with today’s niche markets and then: • Prove our innovation with action • Validate our innovation with facts Some time ago companies relinquished their brands to consumers. One-to-one and one-to-many conversations among consumers now are so easy and pervasive “At Airfoil we believe that they have become the primary generators of brand trust and loyalty. If my that communicators Facebook friends like it, I’ll try it. If my LinkedIn peers are loyal to it, then they’ve can best project the helped me cut through the trial and error, and I’m on it in a second. innovation of their software, devices or How do we prove and validate our innovation to these markets, however? How services if they stop do we enter the conversation, grab a few ears, and encourage word-of-mouth screaming and begin among the crowd? engaging.” One strategy that many companies are pursuing is to become publishers of their own content. In reality, they are becoming media, with their own employees, bloggers and freelance journalists, and they are publishing every day or every week 3
  4. 4. Airfoil POV // Innovation for consumer and B-to-B audiences. Increasingly, companies believe they can connect with the crowd by taking control of their own content in their own media— on paper, on screen and online. Those companies that are most successful will establish clear, journalistic roles for public relations and marketing in creating content. PR professionals in particular are skilled at earning trust, developing conversations and informing consumers via third-party credibility. So at innovation gatherings like the Consumer Electronics Show, product developers are just as likely to be interviewed by reporters from Best Buy and Cisco as from Business Week and CBS. eBay has launched Inside Source, which The New York Times described as “an online magazine about fashion trends, written and edited by glossy magazine writers and pitching the trendiest items for sale on eBay.” Other companies are adding, expanding and reshaping the content of their blogs, social posts, e-newsletters, magazines, outdoor changeable LED displays and conventional print. By rejecting hype and adopting standard journalistic techniques, corporate media are enveloping themselves in the mantle of factual reporting and credibility within their business niches. They are working to prove their innovation with the act of creating media that present information in place of booster-ism. They are seeking to validate their innovative nature with facts from the marketplace. Can these company-published media succeed where hype has failed? If communications professionals are placed in editorial leadership roles, the evidence is that they surely can prosper. Not so long ago, blogs and bloggers were viewed as annoyances and clutter. But as their influence grew in the niches populated by 4
  5. 5. Airfoil POV // Innovation their fans, these bloggers drew the attention of mainstream journalists. It didn’t take long for reporters and editors to begin adding blogging to their repertoire. Even conventional media began reporting on such extended journalistic blogs as “The Daily Beast”, “Huffington Post”, “CQPolitics” and countless blogs written by other news networks and publications. Long ago, public relations practitioners learned that the hype once associated with their own profession might produce headlines, but in the end it didn’t produce loyal customers. Today’s communications professional understands the massively compelling value of facts, of validation drawn from the marketplace, of enabling the truth to speak for itself. In Airfoil’s view, marketers and public relations practitioners within businesses should be launching seven crucial initiatives right now if they expect to be successful in communicating innovation: 1. Incorporate communications into your company’s vision statement. If you don’t envision your organization as a communicator in the future, it likely has no future. For PR and marketing professionals to have the right place at the right table, the fundamental value of communications must be recognized as a foundation of all the company’s actions. 2. Make integration happen. Assembling, verifying and communicating “proof of innovation” must be a team effort, generated from the collaboration of public relations, marketing, advertising, research and customer service. Simple alignment of these disciplines is no longer enough; saving innovation “If you don’t envision demands an interconnected team with extended, diverse skills. Cross- your organization as functional teaming will lead to efficiency, understanding and ultimately success. a communicator in the future, it likely 3. Assert yourself into the customer-service process. Horror stories fly has no future.” across the ‘Net regarding businesses that supposedly try to ease the way for business customers and consumers to ask questions, issue complaints or seek more information through toll-free phone numbers, e-mail, online forms, FAQs, live chat and a host of other methods. Invariably, however, a large proportion of these companies simply blow it. They answer every question except the one the consumer has asked. They don’t respond to a form or they neglect an e-mail. They insert a phone tree between customer and company that could block a barn. Customer service should begin, not with hyped innovative technology, but with listening to consumers and better understanding the impact of business decisions. How a customer is treated must reflect the company’s brand promise. In the past, PR became involved in customer service only when a problem threatened to escalate and consumer reporters were knocking on the door. With today’s realities, public relations 5
  6. 6. Airfoil POV // Innovation must be engaged at the front end of the customer service process, providing strategic counsel and influencing policy to ensure that brand integrity is maintained in the way that customer service is executed. 4. Position PR to monitor the ‘Net for early warnings. Another reason to position PR pros at the portals of customer service is that customer service has become an influential, if not universally welcome, medium of its own. Problems with products or services may be blogged, tweeted and otherwise “Listening is posted all over the Internet even before the corporate customer service crucial, but to be department has heard the complaint. PR professionals understand how to worthwhile it must monitor for these early-warning gripes. lead to actions. Communicators need 5. Drive the content strategy. PR and marketing need to cooperate in to push for actions creating and shaping the content in the new corporate media company, with each discipline contributing its own strengths and market savvy. Moreover, in that align with their today’s fractionated, one-to-one-focused media landscape, content creators company’s brand must think like journalists; they must dig out and rely on the facts. These are promise and adjust people you need around the editorial table for your publications. current practices that don’t.” 6. Demand more money and resources. While conversations are two-way discussions that often start from the bottom up, budgets are stubbornly top-down creatures. We need top management to commit dollars, people and technology resources to create consistently meaningful content that will stimulate engagement and maintain the level of continuity in conversations that is essential to building trust, preference and loyalty. Use measurement tools to prove the value of your content-driven media, demonstrate their value—both wide and deep—to the entire company, and fight for your right to the financial support you need to make it all work. 7. Listen and take action. Communicators make careers of listening. We invest ourselves in hearing what people are saying about our company or clients. We analyze dialogue, conversations, research and surveys and conduct listening labs. Listening is crucial, but to be worthwhile it must lead to actions. Communicators need to push for actions that align with their company’s brand promise and adjust current practices that don’t. For innovation in your business to survive, the company’s actions must respond to the truths in the marketplace. You can lead the consumer in new directions, but, when you do, ensure that you keep your promises. If you need to change the features of a product or a customer-service policy to do so, then make that action paramount. The greatest value of listening to business customers and consumers is to hear where you are going wrong. These stakeholders can be an early warning system for small corrective actions now that can prevent your CEO from appearing before a Congressional committee later. 6
  7. 7. Airfoil POV // Innovation It’s okay to talk dirty again. You can talk about innovation when you put your motion where your mouth is. Cutting the hype, digging for the facts like a reporter, and holding over-the-fence conversations with your customers may seem counterintuitive to some but, truthfully, this updated approach to communications may be the most innovative change your company can make. For more information on communicating innovation, please visit Airfoil at www. airfoilpr.com, or contact us at 866-AIRFOIL. Contact Us Airfoil Public Relations 866-AIRFOIL 1000 Town Center Drive, Suite 600 higherthinking@airfoilpr.com Southfield, Michigan 48075 7

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