Edge of the Inbox: Incremental Innovation >

As strategists, we often find ourselves walking the line between innovation and reality. “Good strategy is grounded in realistic execution,” is a quote my teammates have heard me say one thousand times and I stand by its validity. Shiny new things are often at odds with the cold hard truth of a rigid budget, SOW or small team with limited resource availability or time constraints, but progress is demanded regardless.


So what can we do?

From BrightWave’s central idea of progressive relevance was born the concept of incremental innovation. The idea is a simple one: slowly and incrementally enhance your program over time. Don’t try to go from zero to 100 overnight. First, get to 10, see how it does and improve on it. Then, push it up to 15, and so on.

Coming off the heels of EiQ, we had a lot of clients raving over the dynamic modular approach we’ve taken with Chick-fil-A (one version of many is shown at the bottom), and rightfully so! It’s a cool program that increases in complex personalization with each deployment, but it is important to note that we didn’t get there overnight. We took our time and approached each new data point and each new decision with thoughtful deliberation, always keeping in mind the ultimate goal of caring for people through email using personalized relevance.

Here are a few things to get you started in your journey toward incremental innovation, no matter the size of your team or complexity of your program:

  1. Begin with a foundation.  In the case of Chick-fil-A, the modular template was the foundation on which we built our approach. It allowed us to create a baseline from which to innovate, adding new dynamic elements built on new data points with each deployment. Your foundation may be something else, but give yourself a starting point from which to grow and a plan for short- and long-term expansion.  
  2. Be deliberate.  Create a schedule for yourself and identify what you want to focus your innovations on each quarter. Your first quarter may involve data organization and foundational work, followed by two or three content elements driven by a single data point, followed by multi-point decisioning, and so on. Have a firm plan, but be flexible enough to change course based on thorough analysis conducted at predetermined intervals.
  3. Be incremental.  Ensure that every new change or innovation provides a shift or change that is measurable in some way. The measure of success can vary widely. For one deployment, it may be a KPI that aligns directly to your business goals while another might be measured simply by the addition of a single new data point to your database. Over time, these will add up to a significant improvement in the performance of your program, and some will stand alone as beacons of progress.
  4. Be sustainable.  Incremental innovation is all about creating long-term sustainable change, so make sure that most* of your implementations are repeatable and will continue to provide value over time.
  5. Spread the word! Share the news of your successes and failures… and know that most successes are preceded by multiple failures. Even the unimpressive results tell a valuable story.  


In our fast-moving digital world, it is critical that we always keep one eye focused on the future.  Adoption of a focused incremental approach to innovation provides built-in opportunities to recalibrate efforts against the larger goal.  While the small steps may seem somewhat inconsequential, they can really add up (while staying in budget and scope!) toward long term efforts over time.

*Most…not all.  Live a little and have fun with it!



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