The Marketer’s Innovation Dilemma

Having spent the last couple of months entirely focused on marketing strategies for my innovative startup clients, I realized that they all suffer the same marketing dilemma. There was no latent demand for their products or service. The world doesn’t know that their truly innovative product exists, so naturally that same world is not out searching for my client’s product.

Having made a career over the last 20 years around Search Engine Marketing (SEM), I realise how lazy marketing has become. If you sell (for example) waterproof work boots, then you can bid in Google for the search phrase ‘water proof work boots’, and then you just have to demonstrate that your product is the best option based on features, brand, warranty, price or other variables.

This is all relativity logical and an easy consumer path to map out.

But what do you do if your product is innovative? A truly innovative product it is not defined by a different or better feature, it is defining an entirely new class of product or service.

Take Uber for example, while it’s true that Uber is a replacement for existing transport options like taxis, buses or private hire cars, the paradigm of a ride sharing cashless app service didn’t exist. If Uber was not innovative and just simply iterative then their service could have just been a cheaper taxi company. Hardly remarkable but easier to create a marketing plan for.

It was at this point that I realised that much like Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, marketers face their own innovation dilemma; “For a true innovation, there is no latent consumer demand”.

The only answer to this dilemma is to interrupt the associated solution path, provide value, then educate.

This is why startup marketing requires a creative and strategic approach. Traditional marketing can rely on iterative ideas and buying power, but startup marketing needs to dive deep into the core rational of why the solution is needed. To be honest, traditional marketing should be taking the same approach, but in reality traditional marketing can skip this extremely hard step, and still achieve a measure of success. For a startup however, skipping this step will lead to the inevitable failure of the company.

If you’re a small business that is just starting, then Google’s adwords provides an amazing product where you can tap into highly targeted existing demand for your product. But if you’re a startup, you need to think harder about the needs and desires of your target market and work out ways to intercept that decision making path with messaging that will cut through.

There is a reason why startups hire ‘growth hackers’ and not digital marketers, the path and methodology is not as clear when it come to startup marketing as there is not latent demand to fall back onto.