Why now is the time to invest in innovation

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

The past year has forced decisionmakers to embrace the opportunity to tackle things in a way they might never have done previously.

At a time when many organisations have slashed budgets and reallocated funds, Leeds-based strategic communications agency CDS believes it’s time to look at where you can innovate.

From people and property to businesses and infrastructure, Managing Director Mark Gair explains why…

 

While we have all been forced to dig deep in the ‘resilience reserves’ over the last 12 months, there were many who innovated on a scale we’ve not seen before - and it’s important this attitude doesn’t fall by the wayside as we enter the ‘recovery phase’.

Although business plans may have evolved considerably over the course of the pandemic, most firms will have clear short and long-term strategies which they revisit on a regular basis. Proving that ‘agility’ and ‘pivot’ are far more than the buzzwords of 2020.

In the communications industry, for example, we’ve witnessed all manner of changes over the past 25 years. These have included a shift from print to digital, the internet revolution, and a recent focus on AI and machine learning. 

In short, brands have always had to adapt, global pandemic or not.

But, with change comes opportunity too. This last quarter of a century has seen the birth of Google, launch of Facebook, and invention of the iPhone - all advancements which people perhaps initially viewed with mild suspicion, but ones which we could not now imagine life without. And, seeing the potential of similar opportunities - albeit on a more organisationally-focused scale - could pay dividends for those looking to recover from the pandemic.

Knowing when to invest in innovation

For many firms - particularly those without the luxury of healthy cash reserves - the changing tide has meant that the priority has been to merely remain afloat, over the past 12 months. For others, non-essential spend was temporarily shelved as organisations took the time to step back and take stock. 

Of course, the pace with which it’s possible to look outwardly once more can vary significantly from firm to firm. CDS is in the fortunate position of having a robust management structure and strong cash reserves, so it would be wrong of me to suggest we can all start purchasing properties and buying businesses at the earliest opportunity. 

But innovation doesn’t always require deep pockets. There has been no getting away from the notion of pivoting, for example, and I think it’s important to explore what opportunities are out there. Then, if it’s sensible to do so, grab them with both hands. 

Naturally, as we all begin to formulate the next phase of our strategies, they will be sympathetic to the current climate, but it’s important that we don’t lose sight of our purpose - and maintain a significant focus to fuel innovation and drive positive change. 

Innovate in areas which make a difference while changing the culture 

There is no point in simply ‘innovating for innovating’s sake’. Likewise, we shouldn’t be quick to follow the masses either. Rushing to turn off print and switch all your communications to digital channels because that’s what everyone else is doing, for example, isn’t innovation.

Asking what matters to your stakeholders right now, taking time to understand customers, challenging what ‘you’ve always done’, showing empathy and thinking about how you can make a difference to the communities you live and work in, alongside tailoring your product or service to reflect the evolving needs of your audience, is what the world needs. 

Demand for insight, content, digital transformation, print and process automation solutions has grown exponentially in recent years - and allowed us to look at what tools were needed to support longer-term ambitions.

Remember what you stand for

Everything I’ve described reflects CDS’ entire vision - and I expect it will resonate with others too. Because yes, we adapt to leverage external opportunities and mitigate risk, but the decisions we make should always be underpinned by our long-term strategy - and be authentic.

So, for leaders developing a newfound appetite for innovation, I’d say that above all, it’s vital that organisations truly ‘live’ their values. Almost 12 months ago to the day, someone told me ‘the way businesses act during this period is how they will be remembered’ and that sentiment applies to our customers, colleagues, and the public. 

While slight upheaval is to be tolerated - we are living through a moment in history, after all - it’s important not to lose sight of who you are, and what attracted people to work with you in the first place. 

Now is not the time to compromise your company’s purpose or values to chase a quick win. While there could have been ample opportunity to stray from ‘the path’ in 2020 – and there will be in the months that come – it’s important to remain loyal to the brand you’ve built your reputation upon.

Leaders - and colleagues - should strive to work alongside those who share the same motivation to get out of bed in a morning to do some good in the world, rather than simply doing what needs to be done in a bid to balance the books.

The pace of change, particularly in our industry, and the acceleration of digital transformation has forced brands to strive to ‘do better’ - and quickly. There’s no time to look at what trailblazers are doing and give yourselves three to five years to get there. Seeing the curve change before rivals, being able to react, and having the foresight to adapt, is key. 

Of course, while emptying the cash reserves is undoubtedly not the way to go, it really is important to seek out ways to invest in people, processes, and technology in order to thrive, not simply survive.

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