Innovation Blog

Not Innovative? Blame Marketing!

By Shlomo Maital





 Apple iPhone

   Writing in Market Leader (Quarter 4 2010),   John Kearon  (founder, CEO and ChiefJuicer at BrainJuicer Group) writes provocatively that:   “….the adoption of ‘marketing science’ is the reason why large corporations no longer seem capable of creating the kinds of new category innovations that made them big in the first place. ….. it is freedom from the constraints of marketing science that has enabled small startups to innovate and initiate new behaviours”. 

      A perfect example is Nokia vs. Apple.  Nokia carried out perhaps the largest market survey ever conducted by a major corporation. Surveying 300,000 cellphone users, in 2006-7, Nokia sliced and diced its market, segmented it into a 2×2  “aspiration vs. involvement” map, identified 12 different market segments, and tailored its “N” phones and its “E” phones precisely to the needs and wants of each segment.  In a presentation I heard personally by a brilliant young Nokia VP, Nokia spoke (this is in 2007) of multi-media devices, not cell phones (what we now call smart phones), and spoke of the fourth screen (the first three were movies, TV, computers, and the fourth – cell phones), being different from the other three, in that it created ‘connectivity’, ‘connection’….   So Nokia ‘got it’.  Perfectly.  And then Steve Jobs ate their lunch…and their supper, breakfast, and everything else in the cupboard. Nokia has now lost the profitable U.S. smart phone market.  What happened?

        Over-management. Over-marketing.  Over-slice/and/dice.  Failure to grasp the need for buzz and excitement when a new ‘category innovation’ like a smart phone is being launched, something Steve Jobs understands intuitively.  Apple has never had anything like the market survey excellence that Nokia has.  In spite of this – perhaps because of it? – Apple has triumphed.

    Kearon sums up the problem perfectly:

    “The problem with putting the consumer first when it comes to originating new categories is that people instinctively reject new behaviours, and it takes inventors/entrepreneurs to ignore these reactions and do it anyway.”

    If you are a startup, or dream of one, you have a huge advantage in category innovation.  If you are a big market-survey-driven organization, you have a huge problem – unless you can find a way to enable inventors/entrepreneurs to thrive within your bureaucratic humdrum disciplined button-down culture.