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Do Australian enterprises suffer from innovation lag? - Ben's #Fieldtrip Part 3
“The root of our innovation paralysis is complex and can only be addressed through a change in both our political and cultural mindset. ”
Despite a strong economy and plenty of innovative talent, Australia is consistently falling behind the US and others in the area of research and development in the digital space. Why is this? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?
During my travels it has become very clear to me that the American conversation around how enterprises tackle the challenges of being competitive in a saturated market is very different from our local, Australian way of thinking. As the Director of a digital marketing business, I find myself asking why it is the case that Australian enterprises remain 2+ years behind comparative businesses in the States undertaking digital marketing initiatives?
THE AGE FACTOR
My train of research immediately veered towards company boards as the groups who sign off on new major strategies and investments. It is, unfortunately, often the case that unless there is a board member with a vested interest and some experience in the digital space, it can be difficult to introduce new online technologies and marketing methodologies. Recently, a digital marketing manager for a large Australian logistics company recalled the time he was laughed out of the room for introducing a content marketing strategy to board members, even though their global competitors had built huge online market equity by leveraging similar strategies.
Could it be our ageing demographic in Australia that is holding us back? According to an ASX200 Snapshot Report, the average age of company directors in Australia is around 65 years. Some research quickly kills this theory as this is a similar statistic to what we see in the States, where technological and strategic breakthroughs are happening daily. We clearly cannot blame age. Having said that, it is worth noting that Australia's boards are getting younger with many Information Technology, Healthcare, Financial and Utilities companies employing Directors under 40 to bring modern learnings and innovation to the table.
R&D TAX INCENTIVE SOLUTIONS FALL SHORT
Since 2011, the Australian Government has invested in research and development by offering SMEs access to government funded R&D tax incentives with many service providers paving the way to assist private businesses to build Australia's knowledge economy. Thus far, this initiative hasn't achieved the primary goal of advancing Australia's innovation stance through investment.
While Australia's manufacturing sector has contracted over the last 30 years, the government has struggled to shift gears into driving innovation in both private and public sectors, an issue well described in this article by Nicholas Reece.
The government has also failed to form partnerships between education institutions and businesses where research and innovation can flourish. Without the confidence brought by government funding to commercial sectors, angel investors remain coy. This is in stark contrast to the US Government's investment strategies into the private sector.
One of many examples is Elon Musk of SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity, who has enjoyed billions of dollars from government grants. When SpaceX successfully launched its first rocket in 2008, a $1.6billion contract was awarded from NASA. Similar agreements have been made with companies such as Facebook, IBM and Google and their research into the field of Artificial Intelligence; a hugely hot topic here in the States.
PROFITABILITY IN INNOVATION
The root of our 'innovation paralysis' is complex and can only be addressed through a change in both our political and cultural mindset. Fortunately, Australia's luddites provide a huge opportunity for more visionary business leaders to propel their businesses ahead of the pack. Within the context of a global economy, there is no reason why local businesses can't invest in researching and employing cutting-edge technologies and strategies; especially in the digital marketing space where cloud tech makes software so accessible and development of new products and ideas inexpensive. If decreasing development costs isn't enough to convince, Fast Company's 50 most innovative companies provide excellent case studies that prescribe research and innovation as the core of their respective successes.
At Indietech, we are lucky enough to be witnessing such market leaders and visionaries as they develop advanced and very impressive methods of engaging customers and improving service delivery through technology. In fact, our involvement with their projects has led us down the path of understanding the correlation between innovation, service design, user experience and profitability.
In the context of digital marketing and platform development, top business leaders are seeing the value in leveraging creative thinkers and designers to solve the problems of lead engagement across multiple channels, prospect to customer conversion, service delivery, and developing customer retention programs.
BETTER UNDERSTOOD CUSTOMERS LEADS TO INNOVATION
A number of businesses we're working with, across a wide range of industries, have managed to leverage customer data to help them better understand their financial, infrastructural and/or personal needs. Well-designed data visualisation platforms that allow consumers and business managers to better understand their world are very on-trend.
Activity tracker dashboard from emmacarney.com
Information design is part of a larger picture: User Experience. User Experience (UX), Customer Experience (CX), Human Centred Design (HCD), and service design all focus on bringing design thinking to the forefront. Leading enterprises are leveraging design solutions to not only improve their customers' experience (see Uber, Seamless, Virgin) but also to increase profitability. These same businesses are also leaning towards offering their customers more sustainable solutions that benefit the wider community (see Tesla's Powerwall).
Where designers have traditionally been caged behind brand identity, advertising, and marketing, they are becoming increasingly integral to all facets of business growth and innovation: from sales to service delivery to business reporting.
THE VALUE OF CREATIVE DESIGN FOR BUSINESS PERFORMANCE
Corporate and SME Australia is slowly moving towards a world where innovative design is in focus. Whilst it's not nearly fast enough, it does present opportunities for visionary businesses to thrive in markets that have been stodgy in their approach. Accountancy firms are a classic example. However, we've worked with firms in the financial sector who have been able to rise head and shoulders above competitors by combining business, technology, brand and marketing strategies to better convert leads to prospects by providing clear solutions and a consistent customer experience; all heavily influenced by design thinking.
As a digital marketing and creative agency, our biggest challenge right now and into the is to inspire and educate businesses in effectively tying creative design solutions to business performance. It will take shared vision, collaboration, research, prototyping, testing, measuring and consistency (in that order, then repeat).
So, if there's one solution to unshackling one's business from the constraints of Australia's innovation lag, it's to take a visionary leap into leveraging your creative departments and service providers. World leading brands like Amazon, Uber, Google, and AirBnb, as well as older brands such as IBM and Nike, have all embraced this methodology because it works. Each of them have embraced design thinking to solve the world's problems and fast-track their journey towards brilliant innovation. Now it's your turn.