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How a Marketing Consultant Thinks About Innovation

For Martina Etemadieh, developing innovative ways of communicating and telling stories for some of the biggest companies around is just another day at the office. As Client Service Director at Select Life, she has a unique approach to innovation, collaborating closely with companies striving to be more forward-thinking in their vision and branding. We caught up with Martina to discuss her thoughts on innovation in the corporate world, and how it, along with creativity and the willingness to take risks, are so critical to the modern company’s success.

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Tell us a little bit about your work.

I’m a marketing and communications consultant. I work with teams to support brands, but also help them to develop new ideas and engage in development for products and services. At the moment, everyone aspires to be innovative, creative, or even to be creatively innovative, and part of my job is to coordinate workshops with the clients and to really work on ideas that have innovative potential and to ask what these ideas or strategies will mean for the product and for the development pipeline.

As a marketing consultant, what does innovation mean to you?

It means that an idea or a vision is successfully taken forward, resulting in new products and services that add value for consumers, customers, and employees. Innovation brings change and evolution, and sometimes it is even revolutionary. There are many layers to innovation: from creative problem-solving to developing technological inventions, new products, new services. In the past, innovation was motivated primarily by aiming for growth, productivity, profit, and success. Nowadays there is ideally much more to it, including having a positive impact in the world; making a difference while also being profitable.

How do you think about innovation in your daily life, with work or otherwise?

When you’re in the creative industry, coming up with innovative ideas is essential. At Select Life, innovation allows us to help our clients communicate with their customers in meaningful ways: adding value and quality to their lives. Innovation is important for us internally as well: identifying trends and client/customer needs, and then creating change through innovative structures or unique collaborations in our agency set-up. It forces us to develop, grow, and thrive.

Innovation is often linked to digitization these days. What are your thoughts on the overlaps? Does innovation take on a different meaning in a digital context?

Yes, innovation takes on an entirely new meaning in a digital world. We are now living in the Digital Age, and big players like Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb have built their business models on it. Our economy is now based on technology and computerization. Not only are the technological possibilities much broader, but the distribution, proliferation, and communication concerning them are immediate, spreading news about them within minutes.

However, in my experience, the most creative innovations and the greatest thoughts are still based on creativity, on having some smart people sitting together in a room and really striving to identify new insights, discover what is driving humans, and where is there a need for change. I still really believe in the power of the human brain, not to mention the heart and soul. I do think a lot of innovation come out of the tech world, but for me, it’s more of a means: we use technology and artificial intelligence to come up with great innovations, but a tech innovation itself will always be a cold, soulless innovation. I think the human touch is needed; creativity is necessary for really great innovation.

Innovation is inarguably a huge buzzword right now. Is the desire to be innovative a new trend, or have companies always sought to innovate rather than just deliver products and services?

The drive to be innovative has always been there. Agencies identifying and delivering global mega-trends or international strategic consultancies offering “ideation sessions” were in business 10 or 20 years ago. If innovation would not have existed 30 or 40 years ago, the web and inventive companies like Apple would not exist. Yet, indeed, nowadays innovation as a concept is much clearer, more transparent, more approachable, and also faster and broader: everybody wants to leverage the digital innovation possibilities. Still, not all companies are innovative. There are still a lot of imitators and “me-toos” on the market.

What do you see as common roadblocks for people or companies striving to be more innovative?

Many things. A fear of change, the need for convenience, an aversion to risk-taking, a focus on tactics and “quick wins” rather than long-term strategies. Innovation means creating a vision and then following through with all the actions necessary to achieve your goals. Currently, the setup and culture of many corporations is not fostering an innovation-inviting working climate. Productivity is still very much build around efficiency, fast turnaround times, and slim processes. For innovation and creative thinking to flourish, an open-minded and easygoing atmosphere and work culture is helpful; a space to “be” rather than “do”. The best ideas arise without immense pressure and judgement. This is why the Googles and Facebooks, as well as many agencies have living-room-like office spaces to chill, meet, and brainstorm (while playing some table-tennis in between!).

Are there any traits you recognize in people that are innovative? If so, what are they?

Sure. Curiosity, creativity, playfulness, out-of-the-box thinking and free-spiritedness, a certain daringness, a willingness to take risks, entrepreneurial thinking, a collaborative attitude; a strategic understanding of how to bring all dots together and foresee new opportunities, need gaps, and business potential. And then, patience and the endurance to stick with it.

Can thinking like an innovator be learned, or is it something you’re born with?

You can absolutely learn it. There are even creative studies programs out there specializing in this. Everybody is creative and can be trained to inhabit this playful, light-hearted side that we all have within us. Also, you can help cultivate it by creating environments that foster relaxation; time to ponder and dream. And we need to learn to silence our inner-critic. One of the principles within a brainstorming session is that nothing is wrong, every spark of an idea has the right to be expressed and heard, as it has the potential to evolve into the next big innovation.