Research & Development and Marketing traditionally lived in different worlds. R&D for innovation purpose happened in secret, in the lab, while Marketing was mostly just advertising. The advertising itself? Well, that was generally about convincing people to buy what the company could already make. It was rarely about the future and what the brand might become. Smart companies however, have merged these two disciplines. It’s a ‘trick’ any firm big enough to have a marketing budget might want to embrace. Yes, the marketing budget should really be an innovation fund, and vice versa.
In times of great change we idolise the new. The wonder created by what was once the realm of science fiction, are todays most shareable artefacts online. Cool stuff we see for the first time like an Amazon drone delivery, a Google driverless car, or an Uber air taxi get viewed millions of times, voluntarily, without media expense. These companies are telling the market, we are inventing the future. If you’re a large corporation today, and you’re not inventing the future, during such a revolutionary time, then you just might be inventing your own demise.
But here’s a few questions worth asking:
- When was the last time you had something delivered via drone?
- When was the last time you took a ride in a driverless vehicle?
- When did you last hover above traffic in your air taxi?
If you’re like most people, you haven’t, yet. That’s not to say that these things aren’t on the way – they certainly are, but in truth these companies have purposely talked up the technology many years before any of them were actually functional, let alone a commercial reality. This is where the trick part comes in. The time lag between the concept phase and the reality of these innovations being in market is a great brand building exercise for the firms smart enough to do it. Cleverly, their R&D has become their advertising. They’ve earned free global media attention and further ensconced themselves as innovators.
The perception this creates in the market isn’t just nice to have. It can also have a massive economic impact on the firms financially. Just compare the unit sales, price earnings ratios and valuations of firms serving the same set of customers:
- Tesla makes 245k cars per year, and has a PE ratio of infinity (no dividends yet), and a market cap of $48 billion.
- Ford makes a 7.9m cars per year (one per 4 seconds) and has a PE ratio of 9.3x, and a market cap of $34 billion.
The market has clearly voted on how it values innovation.
So could an old world industrial company use innovation as a brand communication tool? Could they be seen as on the cutting edge of technology and reap the valuation benefits? Of course.
But it requires some shifts in attitude.
It requires the firm to set lofty goals in their innovation efforts, it can’t be incremental. They also need the courage to share these innovation dreams with the market and own them publicly. It also requires the vision to shift investment from traditional marketing and advertising budgets into innovation arenas and moonshot product developments. All of which can not only become an exponential product improvement, but be an effective form of advertising in the interim. But mostly, it will send a strong message and provide a new confidence to the firms customers, employees and investors that they have a chance at inventing the future too.