By Cory Ziskind
Innovate or Die. Whether a Fortune 500 company looking for opportunities to capture new market share in the face of increased competition from smaller but more nimble companies, or a start up with a disruptive, game changing technology that holds great promise for the future, but has not yet been proven economically and commercially viable – innovation is the goal of every company that is looking to differentiate and drive sustainable growth.
But there is a fine line running between the reality of promising innovation and overhyped expectations that PR professionals must walk when helping companies
The ‘hype vs. reality’ dynamic inherent in the innovation game must be managed strategically in order to truly establish credibility with stakeholders and to avoid the classic pitfall of overpromising and under delivering when introducing a new solution to the market.
Communications plays a critical role in managing this delicate balance. While creating excitement around a new innovation is critical for generating awareness of and interest in its potential, equally important is proving that ‘the hype’ is indeed ‘the reality’ over time in a real world context.
This is often a challenge when working to court the attention of external audiences, including the news media, investors, analysts, customers and partners, employees and other key stakeholders – while executing on the long and winding road from conceptual idea to viable technology to a successful business whose innovation is delivering on its promise.. Within this challenge lies the exciting opportunity to ‘get it right’ the first time in a world where new innovations are often met with skepticism and second chances do not come easily or without reputational scars.
This challenge and opportunity plays out across a wide range of industries and has been especially prominent in the clean tech, 3D printing, medtech, life sciences and healthy living sectors in recent years. For any company introducing a new innovation that promises to economically produce energy with no carbon emissions, usher in a new industrial revolution, deliver life-saving personalized medicine to more people at lower cost, or make a snack food better-for-you without sacrificing taste – appropriately managing the ‘hype vs. reality’ dynamic is critical to successfully building an authentic corporate brand and reputation.
We believe that the fundamental driver of strategic and effective communications for the innovation-driven enterprise should be the rigorous pursuit of credibility-building with key stakeholder audiences through a proactive and sustained ‘show and tell’ communications program that clearly proves the viability of the innovation in a real world, commercial context over time.
A ‘one size fits all’ approach does not exist – companies must create their specific recipe for developing and executing a strategic communications program that delivers the right balance between exciting and evangelizing the true believers, while also garnering support from the skeptics and thus, converting them to advocates for the company’s innovation and its promise.
Establishing credibility does not occur overnight – it is a process and can be accomplished over time through a strategic communications program focused on stoking interest in the technology and its potential to change its respective game – while also proving the ‘hype’ with stories of real world advances, developments and milestones that illustrate viability and bring the innovation to life.
External communications should involve input from all areas of the organization in order to strategically align public relations activities with the company’s progress on the path towards commercialization and market penetration. The Board of Directors, C-suite, sales, marketing and communications organizations, engineers, technologists and innovation teams all need to be communicating and coordinating in lock-step in order to fully capitalize on the opportunity and to confront the challenges, and manage the seen and unforeseen risks that inevitably lie ahead.
All facets of the organization must be strategically aligned on the core elements of the communications program architecture, including messaging, positioning and timing of communications activities that prove real world viability. This includes ensuring the ability and willingness of third parties, whether customers, partners, academics or industry experts – to participate in public endorsements and testimonials that validate the company’s communications.
There is no silver bullet to communications for the innovation-driven enterprise, but when managed appropriately, the ‘hype vs. reality’ dynamic can leveraged to establish credibility, build reputational capital and set the company on the path to towards long-term success.