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Business Week writer Reena Jana published a great article recently. "The Innovation Backlash" is a must-read for business executives and marketers everywhere.


In her article, Ms. Jana cites a rising number of influential business thinkers' books, articles, surveys and podcasts on the subject of innovation, or rather -- the abuse and overuse of the word innovation -- and how this is causing a real backlash. She also cites other must-read articles and books for our benefit.
Ms. Jana's points of contention: incremental product improvements are being heralded by companies as proof of their commitment to innovation. By marketing their brands as innovative long enough and loudly enough, the public will "see their brand as inventive and forward-thinking."
The problem is that so many companies are hyping the "innovation factor" (vis-à-vis their products and services) that it's become banal. While many companies do, in fact, have innovation-based cultures, many others are overstating this to an increasingly skeptical, jaded consumer.
Similarly, in an article titled: "Beware the Backlash: A rising tide of disaffection towards design", on the Core 77 web site, also cited by Ms. Jana, author Kevin McCullagh observes the same thing. "The term (innovation) has been over-used and abused of much of its meaning, with every lame brand-tweak and extension being hailed as an 'innovation.'" He contends that this "approach" is only serving to weaken the potentially meaningful impact of true innovation and design, as well.
The other problem seems to center on the cost vs. reward ratio for companies that truly innovate. Translation: some companies are spending far more on R&D in an effort to innovate than is justified by their return on investment.
Payback: Reaping the Rewards of Innovation, a book written by Boston Consulting Group's James Andrew and Harold Sirkin (Harvard Business School Press, January 2007) discusses this crucial issue for business. To quote Ms. Jana: "The authors emphasize what should be, but isn't, obvious: that the 'only worthwhile innovation is profitable innovation.'"
It seems to me that lots of solid, straight-forward ideas might be gleaned from these sources, for businesses large and small. For example, Payback advises businesses to let go of certain innovative ideas if they are too costly, making them unprofitable to companies, even if they are 'brilliant and revolutionary.' Sound reasoning since companies are in business to make a profit, after all.
There is plenty of room for true innovation. Consumers want and expect it and companies that provide real, innovative solutions will continue to reap the benefits, provided they measure their investments vs their returns.
Ask yourself these questions:
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How many real innovations can you recall in recent memory?
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How many "innovations" have you seen advertised and marketed that didn't live up to that billing?
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How did you feel when you purchased products or services that were touted as innovative, only to be disappointed afterward?
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What was the last product or service you bought that you considered truly innovative?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ted Mininni is president of Design Force, Inc. (www.designforceinc.com), a leading brand-design consultancy to consumer product companies (phone: 856-810-2277). Ted is also a regular contributor to the MarketingProfs blog, the Daily Fix.