How to avoid the incremental trap

Steps by jara_mae FlickrImagine the scenario: It’s planning time and budgets are still really tough. Many consultancies and agencies will be talking to their clients about incremental growth, incremental volume, incremental profit, and incremental process improvements.

It’s such a lovely, feel-good adjective. It’s like the growth is there so long as you can find best practice, harness capability and galvanise action… yes, this is straight from the manual of consultants’ ‘bullshit bingo’.

The problem with incremental is that it says improvement, but with no real effort or worse, anything will do. While businesses are shuffling the deck chairs looking for internal best practice, the consumers and market are making their own best practice. And, at a pace that will outrun any ‘ways of working’ manual or online toolkit.

With unprecedented levels of communication and information available to us, influence no longer comes in incremental portions. In a couple of clicks I can expand my network from five to five million, I can write a review on any brand I experience and contradict months worth of carefully prepared marketing gumph. Amazon gives me endless choice and Google gives me the means to find it, and not once will I think of incremental anything.

Brands take years to develop and business plans months to prepare, yet in a single click consumers and competitors anywhere can change it in any direction… and tell millions of others. Technology and cultural change has created a new era where the power and direction of influence has changed. In this era individuals and small groups of consumers pack a mighty punch to brand plans.

Brand owners searching for incremental change might find it but, it is more than likely that their consumers have found a much bigger solution elsewhere.

So, what can marketers do to ensure they don’t get sucked into the cult of incrementalism?

1. Switch focus from marketing to conversation and listen and participate generously in conversations. I’m not just advocating Twitter or Facebook but recommend real conversations with people. The stuff mouths and ears are made for.

2. Set up a research portal directly on your own company website. Consumers want to be involved and feel connected to their favourite brands. Let them suggest answers to your marketing questions and benefit from unforced opinion found in research groups, natural consumer language and the wisdom of crowds.

3. Involve consumers in the product development and design process via design schools or online competitions. A great quality product that works is ‘ticket for entry’ in any category; the winning brands are those that build advocacy from the very beginning through participation in its creation.

4. Learn from others’ mistakes. Facebook continually faces mini-revolutions over its privacy policy and yet still many large company fan pages or web-sites have adopted the same policy; ‘like’ or ‘register’ and then you can look. We may live in a culture of sharing and connectedness, but freedom to choose is paramount.

Karen Connell is founder of The SMALLmighty Ltd