Magazine article Marketing

Innovation: Are We Running out of Good Ideas?

Magazine article Marketing

Innovation: Are We Running out of Good Ideas?

Article excerpt

Whether you're adding an extra blade to a razor or working at the cutting edge of science, innovation is vital.

It drives brand growth and, by extension, the UK economy. But how good is UK plc at innovating? Are brands doing enough to keep the nation competitive? We asked four industry experts for their thoughts - from the government,

Ian Pearson MP, minister for science and innovation; from an innovation consultancy, Stephen Castens, managing partner at Eureka Inventing; from the world of big brands, Troy Warfield, general manager UK and Ireland at Kimberly-Clark; and from the SME arena, Tom Kay, founder of ethical surf clothing brand Finisterre.

- How important is innovation to UK businesses?

Stephen Castens: Hugely. As technologies converge and major players become more concentrated, innovation will be the major discriminator between firms. But, increasingly, companies based in the UK are not looking to the UK as a driver of innovation. In our experience, companies are innovating for driver markets, such as the US and China, leaving the UK to pick up some of the benefits.

Ian Pearson: Innovation is vital for business to achieve higher and more sustainable profitability, compete globally and provide higher value to customers through better products and services. With the formation of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), innovation now has a direct voice in the Cabinet.

Tom Kay: There are two types of innovation within the product and service sector: unsustainable and sustainable. There is the type of innovation that happens every year - current model with a few extras - to push sales and create demand. This type of innovation is usually unsustainable, quickly rendering many products and services obsolete The other is sustainable innovation, the type of designs and concepts that are so ground-breaking and well planned that they see many years of success.

Troy Warfield: Without innovation, consumer goods suppliers and retailers would fail to grow and improve shareholder value. Innovation is the lynchpin of Kimberly-Clark's strategy, enabling us to drive category growth and become an indispensable partner to the major retailers.

- How does UK innovation compare with overseas?

TW: Because of the sophistication of the UK market it is often this country where true innovation is uncovered. Our Huggies Sleep Shorts brand was an innovation that was jointly developed for both the US and the European markets, and launched in the UK first.

SC: We are definitely leaders in architecture but, arguably, it's like being a gold medallist in cycling when the attention of the world is on athletics. We have some strong brands, such as in the drinks industry, but we are increasingly being challenged. There is an assumption that we are world leaders in innovation, but it is coming under increased scrutiny. Cheaper labour, lower welfare and tax costs overseas, allow more money to be channelled into R&D. Developing markets are increasingly able to leapfrog established ones.

IP: It is important that UK brands continue to embrace innovation so they can successfully compete with overseas brands. But with successful companies moving to a more open, inclusive process of innovation, collaboration with overseas partners has become even more important.

TK: International markets see innovation in different ways. Within the outdoor apparel industry, the UK claims innovations in fabrics on an annual basis, but many of these are little different from existing products, just marketed differently. In Western and Northern European Markets, consumers are less tolerant of marketing gimmicks.

- How easy is it for UK brands to innovate?

TK: Unsustainable innovation is very easy - come up with something that is a bit different from last year, then get someone to endorse it and market it with a few topical buzzwords. …

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