By Andrew Jackson, Concep Director

Buzz words have been around for as long as marketing has existed. Pick your favourite: ‘dynamic’, ‘synergy’, ‘automation’... At Concep we work exclusively with Professional Service firms, and in my experience, this industry is subject to the power and influence of buzz words more than most. Right now, that buzz word is ‘innovation’. 

You’d be forgiven for believing innovation is the golden child of buzz words; the one that changes the playing field and ensures business is booming. The one that positions firms as ‘cutting edge’. The one that says you are a ‘leader of disruption’ and a ‘champion of change’. Innovation is a word filled with so much promise. 

And a firm may well achieve all of the above.  But jumping headlong into innovation without first tempering the decision with research and planning can be misguided at best or end up being even riskier than standing still.  

To appreciate if innovation is right for your firm it’s worth considering the following questions – if we can control the power of our latest buzz word then the experience should be a positive one!

Let’s start with the basics.

What is innovation? 

We all understand that the world is rapidly evolving - whether physically as in climate change, politically as in globalisation vs. insularism; socially as in the #metoo movement, or technologically – as in digital transformation. But what do we really understand when we talk about innovation? 

One person’s take on innovation, for example implementing AI to reduce staff overheads, might be completely different to another’s idea of asking Business Development teams to target small firms; with small budgets they are likely to move fast thereby decreasing risk through spreading revenue across a wider client base. 

#1 Key Takeaway: A firm must first define what innovation looks like to them before going down the path any further.

Why innovate? 

More important than ‘what’ is the ‘why’. Are you trying to ‘keep up with the Jones’ – your competitors? Have you carried out any market and/or client research to see determine where you need to improve?  Is this part of a bigger picture? Or simply that it’s long overdue and the time’s now or never? 

There’s no right or wrong answer.  However, how you respond will determine your future strategy and therefore needs to be analysed thoroughly. By thoroughly, I don’t mean taking longer than necessary, rather simply evaluating the parameters and permutations.  

Looking into a couple of these ‘whys’ in more detail you start to see the predicament many firms find themselves in. Client research, for example, might say that firms need to look towards technology innovation. That’s great -  but what area? Why? And how soon? Asking for too much detail during this type of research and the firm runs the risk of appearing to have a limited strategy and the perception that they are seeking advice on how to innovate as opposed to taking the reins themselves. 

Conversely, a firm wanting to stay ahead of the competition might innovate without consulting their clients. It’s great that the firm has shown initiative, but will they deliver to their clients only to find they’ve missed the mark? Has this pro-active yet one-directional approach cost valuable time, money and standing with existing clients?

#2 Key Takeaway: Carry out research on competitors and with clients, as well as internally researching processes, systems and staff. This will help you identify where you can make efficiencies that align with the firm’s values, the future strategy and fit with your client’s needs. Armed with this information you will be much better placed to innovate for the right reasons.

Analyse the Impact 

Will the impact of innovation on your firm be positive or negative? The impact depends on what type of innovation you decide to implement.  Can you grow market share against a competitor by beating them to the punch?  Are you bringing in technology to save on staff overheads, which looks great on the P&L but can affect motivation and even impact culture? Or if feedback from client research was disregarded, would it alienate your clients - or even your market?

None of these points should be overlooked.  With the benefit of today’s technologies and the firms offering vertical-specific strategic expertise, there is plenty of data to analyse in order to justify innovation decisions. Take this as an example: 

Run an in-depth review of the past 12 months of email marketing campaigns to understand how best to increase client engagement levels and identify their areas of interest.

Utilising the resulting data, a firm could decide they need to generate more content around certain topics, with a long-term strategy to separate these into a web-based content hub which generates automated emails tied to recipient preferences. 

In the efficiencies gained from automating blogs, client satisfaction and public perception have all benefited from innovation.

#3 Key Takeaway: You are always going to have advocates and opponents for your ideas. These are trumped by a justified stance, using data, on why you are or aren’t innovating. If you see a 10% negative churn but can claim 20% new business, you can say you made the right decision.

You may have been wondering… 

Who’s responsible for innovation? 

Does a legal firm rely on fresh blood coming in and ‘shaking it up’ at Partner level? Should we adopt the Google/Apple/Atlassian approach where all employees are encouraged to spend a percentage of their working week thinking outside the box? Or should we simply follow the market and innovate to keep up? 

Each avenue offers benefits and presents challenges. Must we be of a different generation to truly bring innovative ideas to the table of a seasoned firm? Surely just keeping up with the market means we’re behind the curve. Can too many ideas muddy the water unless assessed and filtered effectively? 

On this last point I recently had the opportunity to witness the finale of Atlassian’s graduate week, a time when all come together and present in-front of the firm. The concept was simple: Having spent a week learning about the firm, present for 3 minutes on an idea you have to offer improvement to an aspect of the business. Everything was recorded, while being analysed on the spot by all employees through discussion. If an idea had traction it generated more debate on the night, and I assume in the weeks and months to come. 

#4 Key Takeaway: Are you looking to change the firm’s culture and strategy, stamp your mark as a new employee, or bring efficiencies to both colleagues and clients alike? Engaged employees are more likely to think positively and create ideas worth investigating. They don’t have to be implemented but there’s a difference between not bothering and not innovating.  

Now for the final, tricky one:

What are the dangers of not innovating? 

The appearance of standing still isn’t ideal, in fact many believe it truly is a case of innovate or die. According to a Marshall School of Business quoted by Business Insider: “Wherever innovations come from, however they are done, and in whatever part of the business they occur, companies need to continuously innovate or risk dying”.

True or not, the real danger lies in thinking innovation isn’t necessary. By allowing ideas to thrive, by using the data at our fingertips, or simply by speaking to a client and asking them what their expectations from you as a firm are you will open up new possibilities to innovate.  What you really need you to ask is whether innovation is essential, and how you can manage the need to ‘jump on the band wagon’.

#5 Key Takeaway: Whatever happens don’t fear innovation, nor believe it’s the only way. Quite often the voice people hear is the voice shouting loudest… Who is to say that voice is worth listening to? Define, research and use data to plan and execute your innovation.  And most importantly, stick by the decision-  because confidence breeds confidence.

If you are thinking about using marketing technology to innovate and enhance engagement in a professional services environment, get in touch with Concep.