There is a lot to say about innovation management these days. Pretty much everywhere you turn, someone is writing about how innovation is, or is not being accomplished. Yes, even I am writing about innovation. Here are a few articles already published right here on the Huffington Post.

The word innovation is so popular in fact, if you type “innovation” into the Google search bar, you will see there are 131 million search results. Are you ready for this? If you type “innovation blogs”, 372 million results are available. With all this information readily available, how do marketers figure out where to start? That’s a great question. In my search to help provide answers, I discovered an article called “How to Build a Culture of Innovation by Killing Mediocrity.” Here’s what author Brian Solis had to say: “In a world where the expression of ideas is a commodity but the consideration and implementation of them is a scarce resource, how do we create a more inviting culture that fosters their transformation from concept to manifestation?”

Create Some Structure First

In my experience, innovation in marketing really starts with how you think, not how you act. In order to start off on the correct foot, you must get your mind right. That means, prepare yourself and your team by creating some structure.

Marketing innovation has several stages which I have experienced firsthand. These stages really work to help creative project teams activate their innovative juices and mobilize their ideas. Here’s an example. Recently, my team discussed some strategies and the word ‘innovative’ came up. Instantly I thought, “This really isn’t an innovative process,” however, I was wrong; it really was. As I thought more about this, I began to outline what really happens in the pre-innovation stages of thinking.

Stages Of Pre-Innovation

Here are four stages of pre-Innovation that I feel are critical to accomplish real marketing innovation. I have experience using the 4-stage process and continue to use it to implement innovative thinking. Begin with stage 1 and work your way through. You will find out that it actually works and the structure will help your team think about new ideas and to fit them into the pre-planning of the project.

1. The Project Goal: This is probably the simplest of all the stages. Just ask yourself, If the initiative is to be successful what has to occur? This is your project goal. In order to move forward and take advantage of this process effectively, you must answer this question before you move on to stage 2. If you skip stage 1, you will end up straying off course creating a plan that doesn’t fit the goal or eventually coming back and answering the question.

2. Determine The Criteria: Here you must ask your team if there are certain criteria within the project initiative that must be included along the way? Are there things that you cannot do? What is your budget? What is the timeline? Who are the key players involved in the project? Are there other departments that are to be included? What tools and resources do you have available to you? What tools and resources that you don’t have are required? These are just a few questions that will help determine the framework of the project.

3. Start Brainstorming: Once you outline the project goal and criteria, it’s time to start the creative brainstorm process. This is where you want to listen to anything and everything that fits within stage 1 and 2. Sometimes even the ideas that don’t make sense at first glance actually end up being the best ideas in the end. My suggestion here is to listen thoroughly to everything and do not discount any ideas in this stage.

4. Write The Brief: The brief includes what I call the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How? It’s called a brief for a reason. It’s a short description that outlines all key components and even unknowns that are to be included in the project. Why do you write this? Good question. The brief includes all the key information in one document and allows the creative team to fully understand what the project is about. This becomes very important when you actually get to the execution stage. The brief serves as the blueprint for the project.

Now It’s Time To Get Creative

This is the fun part! You have worked through stages 1-4, and your project team is anxious to get started. Now, let the creative experts do what they do best, create! The challenge is you will probably see some creative ideations come to life and they won’t work for various reasons, and it’s probably because you missed stage 1 or 2.

It will be tough to say no. However, you must stick with following the brief in order to accomplish your goals and ultimately achieve marketing innovation. My suggestion is to save all the work in which your creative team invested time and energy with all their projects. It has value, especially to stimulate pre-innovative thinking and inspiration for other brainstorming sessions and projects.

Let’s get back to the original question. Is there such a thing as pre-innovation? In my opinion, of course there is, and it starts with your own creativity. Creativity, being different and innovative is related. Congratulations, pre-innovation thinkers and doers, you are on the road to something special. The really cool thing is, you don’t know what you will end up with until you have an aha moment, and that’s when it all comes together!

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