Step One in the IDEA Framework: The 3 levels of Innovation

Why does innovation matter to marketing?


The fact is that people are bombarded by marketing messages everyday and quite frankly tune out most of them anyway. In addition the ongoing media fragmentation there are so many possible touch points As Marketers, we constantly try to find ways to interest our target audiences (and perhaps find them in the first place). Which by all accounts is much easier said than done.

First we need to understand what is Innovation and how it relates to the marketing process. There are essentially 3 levels:

1. Incremental

This level of innovation can be thought of as improvements to an existing product, service or process. They can be things like refining an advertising message, a (New!) product improvement, a credit checking service, or adopting a new email marketing system (like Mailchimp or Aweber). These innovations are used to improve a firms existing position or competitive advantage in a given product/market. It can also be thought of as “New to the Company”, meaning it may be used by other firms in the market but has not been adopted by your particular firm. More on that another time.

2. Breakthrough

A Breakthrough Innovation is often a more enduring source of competitive advantage, and can include things like changes in business models or finding and being able to satisfy a latent need in the market by adapting or creating a product to fill that need. Breakthrough innovations can easily copied by fast followers with similar capabilities. The other way to think is “New to the Industry”, meaning innovations that are used by other industries but not necessarily by your own. By successfully adapting the innovation you can achieve a ‘breakthrough’ in providing value for your customers.

3. Transformational

This is the highest level of Innovation characterized by world-changing products which fundamentally change the way people live their lives. An obvious example is social media, with its pervasive effects in the Marketing world, giving voice to individual customers and amplifying word of mouth effects. This level is also ‘disruptive’ as it challenges the status quo and firms can no longer depend on “the way we do things around here’ as a strategy. It can be though of as “New to the World” with long-lasting ramifications to the business. As a Marketer you need to keep you eye on possible trends that can be both a threat and an opportunity.


So how do you use innovation to fuel your marketing savvy? Start at the beginning, by assessing what are your current Marketing capabilities and explore where you can begin to improve them. Then champion bringing in a new marketing technique that you will believe will work in your company (for example social media) and work to make that a success. In other words start small with an incremental improvement and as you gain trust then move on to bigger and better things.

“The longest journey begins with a single step” (Ancient Chinese Proverb)



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