By David Martin

The explosion of new technology is revolutionizing marketing. Change is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. Creativity is challenged as never before to get ahead of changes in the way we market. Still, every now and then, we need to step back and examine the relationship between change and creativity. Examine the total marketing process, not just the new e-tools. By being proactive instead of reactive to change, we can reinvent our businesses and market with new creativity and gain a competitive edge.

Proactive business edge
According to Robert B. Tucker, president of The Innovation Resource, Santa Barbara, Calif., “Businesses need to productively change with change, rather than react to change. Innovative thinking must take place at every level, in the way the company operates and views its customers, its competitors and change itself.”

Tucker’s list of “Ten Driving Forces of Dynamic Change” offers a proactive business an edge over reactive ones. Tucker believes that creative businesses will gain an edge by out-innovating their competition in the following ways:

Speed—Winning businesses cut customer waiting, whether on line, on hold or in general for a product or service to be delivered satisfactorily. Ask yourself, “What system or method changes must we make to speed satisfaction?”

Convenience—Domino’s Pizza built its competitive edge on convenience. Reexamine this concept in light of changing, more harried lifestyles. Rethink your entire operation to make your products more accessible, user-friendly and portable.

Age waves—The Baby Boom, Baby Bust and Graying of America socio-trends present countless opportunities for creative response to these demographic groups. Brainstorm ways you can diversify into such niche markets while maintaining service your current customers’ demand.

Choice—Increasingly sophisticated consumers demand more options and customized solutions. Future-focused leaders will anticipate new demands and see the need for more target marketing to subgroups, including attentive listening to customers so offerings reflect evolving choice demands.

Lifestyle—Changing lifestyles affect every business. How do changing American lifestyles affect you and your customers? Can you profit by responding to them?

Discounting—Look for price-cutting to intensify even further, spreading to typically unaffected arenas such as real estate. What’s your firm’s strategy with regard to discounting? What prevents you from leading the charge?

Value adding—If you aren’t going to be the “low priced leader,” you must add value continuously. Bring new ways to add value to your customers’ eyes. Remember, the customer always wants to know, “What have you done for me lately?”

Customer service—Excellent customer service for beleaguered American consumers is so rare that people pay extra for it. Always be prepared to offer more than is requested.

Techno-edge—Everyone knows technology is advancing rapidly. But the future belongs to companies that embrace possibilities and lead competitors in adopting new methods. Don’t play catch-up. Be innovative. Look for tools that increase speed, add convenience and raise productivity.

Quality—In an age of parity products, quality is often taken for granted. But a company’s “quality image” extends beyond products it sells. Look to design “better quality” into operations and customer service. Be first to exploit it in marketing. Where to start? Ask customers what they think of your product and service quality. They’ll tell you.

Innovative people, says Tucker, are constantly on the lookout for new possibilities, i.e. easier ways of getting the job done such while lowering costs, raising customer satisfaction and adding value. “They’re very entrepreneurial, whether they work for a large corporation or work for themselves. They search for unsolved problems, market inefficiencies, unmet needs and just-now-emerging needs of customers.” Sometimes, he says, they find opportunities in serving new customer groups.

The tool of entrepreneurs
Peter Drucker, leading business author and consultant, believes innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs—“the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity.” He sees creativity as a learned discipline, capable of being applied and practiced on an ongoing basis. And American business executive and one of the richest people in the world, J. Paul Getty, was once quoted as saying, “In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.”

According to Jack Welch, General Electric CEO and one of the country’s most respected executives, companies must change internally to deal with external change. This internal change has to occur constantly. “I am convinced,” says Welch, “if the rate of change inside an organization is less than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight.”

Innovator or sustainer?
Use the checklist in Figure 2 to determine if you’re an innovator or a sustainer. Sustainers, says Innovation Resource’s Tucker, are preoccupied with the present: the present view of reality, present needs of customers, present set of opportunities and problems. In this mode, people have ideas but need guarantees. They avoid risk.

Innovators, on the other hand, don’t merely react to change; they create it. They just don’t come up with ideas; they bring them to life. They make commitments and get things done.

Innovators question assumptions. They’re tough on themselves in trying to weed out unproductive thinking patterns. They look for preconceived notions, biases, thinking ruts, unchallenged assumptions and “limiting paradigms” that get in the way of creative thinking. Says Tucker, “The leading innovators I have studied and interviewed had an expression in common: ‘Everybody told me I was crazy, but I went ahead and did it anyway.’”

Tracking trends
Innovators look out ahead to see how the world is changing, then respond by making adaptations that enable and empower them to take advantage. To do this, they take an interest in changes going on all around them—new and emerging technologies, fads and fashions that capture peoples’ fancy, demographic and lifestyle changes, etc.

According to Tucker, innovators also:

  • Commit to lifelong learning
  • Develop an interest in history
  • Become students of change
  • Look for patterns everywhere

Rapid change in your market—and any other market for that matter—will drive you, if you don’t use your creativity to get in front of it. Change with change, don’t get caught reacting to change. In this environment, he who hesitates loses. Ask yourself, do you really desire change? What do you want to change in your company? Begin immediately to initiate change. Do not deviate. Reinforce change at every opportunity.

About the author
David H. Martin is a marketing consultant and partner in Lenzi Martin Communications, a Chicago-based marketing firm focusing on products which protect people’s personal environment. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, (708) 848-9062 (fax) or email: [email protected]

Figure 1. Contrasting Thinking Modes: Are you an innovator or a sustainer?


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