Inbound Marketing Innovation: A Machine that Leaks a Bit of Oil

by Thaddeus Gerber | MIN READ
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innovationThere are two common mistakes companies make while trying to innovate.

Mistake #1: Discarding process and treating every new product or service development like it’s a new brainstorm, with no process steps or guidelines—pure blank sheet, blue sky ideation and development. 

Mistake #2 (which is more common):  Running such a rigorous, regimented process that all the creativity, spontaneity and spark are squeezed out of efforts.  This second mistake confuses a means (the process) for an end (great innovation), leading to “new” inbound marketing strategies that are no more than lifeless refinements of earlier strategies—an “incrementalist” approach that ends up hardly moving the sales needle at all.

Good Process Enables Creativity

The right answer lies in between. A thoughtful, rigorous, fit-for-use innovation process not only doesn’t stifle creativity and innovation, but actually unleashes it. Process participants shouldn’t have to expend energy on reinventing process every time they innovate. Good process, always keeping company strategy and customers in full view, frees participants to focus energy on new ideas and creativity, the stuff of effective innovation. There is a lot of documentation for effective innovation management, often called “stage gate processes”.

By the same token, creativity and flair matter. This is where the “well-oiled machine leaks a bit of oil (game-changing innovation).”

Effective techniques for enabling creativity and effective brainstorming are readily available from varied sources.

Remember, however, that effective inbound marketing ideas need to serve company strategy and address real needs of real customers. A really cool boat that isn’t sea-worthy is simply an expensive ornament not serving any functional purpose.

Related: Marketing Automation & It's Role in Process Improvement

3 Ways to Look at Innovation

There are dozens of ways to consider marketing innovation and create new product concepts. Let’s look at a few that have served many well…

1. Razor/Razor Blade Strategy

First popularized by Gillette as it “gave away razors to sell blades,” this strategy been adapted and exploited by many innovative companies over the years, including PC printer companies, Avery Dennison and even Blizzard Entertainment and it’s wildly successful “World of Warcraft” platform. Many companies have made their individual products part of greater, indispensable systems to drive customer use and loyalty.

2. Look at Customer Compromises

When end users or direct customers have to trade off “what I really want” for what’s available, there are opportunities for meaningful innovation.

3. Don’t Abandon Current, Successful Products Too Quickly

Earlier “incrementalism” warning aside, it’s a common mistake to rush to “the next big thing” and orphan successful product platforms prematurely. Be sure to apply at least some of your creativity and brainstorming efforts at well-established, current products you provide.


There’s no “one right way” to tackle marketing innovation—that’s what makes it innovation! However, successful innovators employ effective processes to outperform their competitors consistently and sustainably.

As well, leading innovators don’t “squeeze the life out of the process,” knowing that great processes enable real creativity and engage employees in the business in new, fun and meaningful ways.

How’s your company at innovating?

Related: Inbound Marketing Strategy: Why Your Opinion Doesn't Matter


Originally published March 9, 2015. Updated February 7, 2017.