Why Your Business Should Be Integrating Marketing and Innovation Upstream

Why Your Business Should Be Integrating Marketing and Innovation Upstream

Integrating marketing and innovation early in development paves the way for new products to succeed.


  • In many organizations, marketing is declining and moving downstream.
  • Innovation needs marketing to be successful, and the earlier marketers are involved, the greater the chances of success.
  • Marketers can help innovations succeed by identifying buyer needs, understanding what makes a product attractive, generating buyer engagement, and more.

With the emergence of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, some companies are putting marketing on the back burner when it comes to allocating resources. While these technologies are invaluable tools for marketers, they should not be supplanting a robust marketing presence. Marketing matters now more than ever, and integrating marketing and innovation is perhaps the best thing businesses can do to create competitive advantage.

Brand-building expert and author Denise Lee Yohn writes that despite the recent decline of marketing and its consequent move downstream, “the full, business-growing power of the marketing function comes way upstream – from creating markets.” This is particularly true when it comes to innovation development. Simply put, innovation needs marketing.

When marketers are involved upstream in development discussions in the innovation process, businesses integrate the power of marketing and innovation. As Yohn puts it, “Strategic, upstream marketing that is incorporated into the innovation development process can clearly define who to sell the new offering to and how to sell it.”

5 ways integrating marketing and innovation leads to greater success

1) Identifying buyer needs

When an innovative design or process hits the market, its success can hinge on whether it meets (or is perceived to meet) an existing unmet buyer need. When marketers are involved early in the development stages of an innovation, they can offer valuable contributions about the needs of the target buyer persona. These contributions can help shape product development, and marketers are in turn able to preemptively drive interest and start generating leads before a new product even hits the market.

2) Understanding what makes a product attractive

Marketers have the knowledge and expertise to analyze buyer trends and address what Yohn describes as “the cultural, social, and psychological dynamics that should be addressed in the development of and communication about an innovative product.” In other words, involving marketers upstream helps shape product development toward marketability.

3) Generating buyer engagement

When engineers or designer talk about a product, they tend to focus on what it can do. When marketers talk about a product, they focus on what it can do for a target buyer persona. Particularly when it comes to marketing breakthrough innovations, buyers need to be educated about why they’re necessary. Marketing and innovation can work hand-in-hand to engage a target buyer segment by emphasizing the aspects of an innovation that make it directly beneficial.

4) Providing context

To illustrate how marketing can help “develop the entire customer experience ecosystem,” Yohn uses the example of the failure of the Sony e-reader as opposed to the success of the Amazon Kindle. Because Amazon integrated marketing and innovation early in the process, when the product launched, “it offered an integrated experience of hardware, software, service, and content.” In other words, marketers can provide necessary context for the launch of a new product to ensure that it launches into a market that’s ready to recognize its value.

5) Shaping go-to-market strategy

When marketers are involved from the development stage of a product, they can begin to develop an optimal go-to-market strategy. Marketers can identify the right channels to ensure that the product gets to the target buyer segment, as well as begin promotional efforts early in the process.

When combined strategically, marketing and innovation share a symbiotic relationship. As Yohn puts it, “Marketing needs to be less about what happens after an innovation is ready to launch, and more about getting it to be ready in the first place.”

Businesses that recognize the value of integrating and embracing marketing organization-wide stand at a significant competitive advantage.

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