Commercialising innovation is taking an idea or technology through to a marketable product or service, which sounds simple enough. The reality however, is that turning ideas into commercial success stories requires the right strategy, people, and skills.
Here are some tips for marketing and brand managers to help their organisations successfully commercialise innovations.
Get involved early in the process
A great idea will not be a commercial success without an understanding of the market and what it wants and an understanding of how your offering is better. This is where marketing comes in. An average idea could be a commercial success if you nail these factors. Understanding the market and competitive advantage you offer will help get to market faster. You won't have to experiment and hope the market wants what you have to offer. This is an area that New Zealand businesses are getting better at.
Know the territory you're entering
Different companies approach commercialisation in different ways. Heavily science-based businesses are more likely to adopt a stage-gate process where ideas are developed and research is undertaken. This might be followed by prototyping, market validation and establishing the best path to market. Depending on the idea, intellectual property (IP) strategy can be important at an early stage. As the idea evolves into a product, then brand strategy develops until the product or service is ready for market.
For some companies, a quicker form of fail fast strategy might be adopted, particularly in the ICT space. Whatever approach is taken, businesses should make sure they're aware of the freedom to operate risks in bringing their idea to market. This involves searching to ensure they won't be infringing third party IP rights as the cost of having to rebrand or re-engineer a product can be huge, not to mention the embarrassment of pulling a recently launched product.
Develop a sound brand strategy
A company's brand is often its most valuable asset. It's much more than a trade mark. It is the company's reputation and identity in the market. So developing a good brand strategy is critical.
For most companies, marketers are the chief custodians of brand. Therefore, understanding how the innovation process evolves and getting into conversations early can help ensure the brand has a successful launch.
In the technology commercialisation space, brand is often underrated. It is the one IP asset that doesn't depreciate over time and it can be renewed forever. Brand managers can help position a product through branding and they often have very good ideas about the market and what the market wants. They should be involved right throughout the process as they often have a sharper focus on sales which is a real weakness in many New Zealand businesses.
Marketers need also to have a role in the brand protection process as the strategy behind brand protection very much depends on how the company approaches its brands and what markets are important. Legal or other IP administrators may be more inclined to make decisions based solely on cost.
Understand your intellectual property
Marketers should be clear about the link between protecting their company's trade marks and setting the foundation for their company's reputation in the market. Apart from trade marks, copyright in advertising materials, packaging and get up is also important for product or brand managers to think about. Even registered designs could be valuable assets for products that are made or packaged in a way where the look is as important as the function.
It's important to have an IP strategy in place to deal with internal IP development as well as the external competitive environment. Find trusted advisors that you can go to from time to time to make sure you stay ahead of the curve. Companies should certainly not wait until they've developed products or services or are in-market before getting IP advice. Litigation and the cost of trying to fix a problem is usually much more expensive that developing and implementing a good strategy from the start.An edited version of this article first appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of NZ Marketing magazine.