room44 innovates

As you sit down to write your 2020 budget plan, ask yourself this question: how different will this plan make us look by this time next year?

It’s likely, in many cases, that the answer is, ‘it won’t.’

This is something we can help to change. Here’s why and here’s how.


Today’s marketplace is dominated by brands looking for a cause to align themselves with: a purpose to adopt and work into their brand messaging to show they are sufficiently aware of environmental, societal and technological forces to know where their own values intersect. In most cases, this is nothing more than marketing.

marketing (noun)

  1. the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.

The most trusted brands today are those focused on their central beliefs and who present their message most efficiently. This is not something an established brand is going to do successfully in a single budget cycle, but if your brand is to have any chance of growing, it is something to consider.

Don’t confuse growth with doing business as usual.

Planning a 2020 budget without making any changes to what you do only maintains the status quo and, while it may work for a year or two, it won’t work for ever. A well-deigned marketing plan will make it possible to sell more than last year, until the marketing stops working. As we all know, marketing always stops working, and a new plan is always needed.

For evidence of this, look at the size of your marketing budget versus your ‘innovation’ budget. See what I mean?


Having a core purpose to your business is more than, for example, changing from virgin plastic to post-consumer waste in your supply chain, or removing some packaging from a product, or working up a VR social media advert.

Having a core purpose is what new positionings are based on. Without a purpose, you will not be seen as actively engaged in the issues that matter to newly influential consumers: Gens Y, Z and Alpha. Without an embedded and ingrained purpose, you are actually sliding out of relevance, whether you know it yet or not.


Taking a stance inside a business, that doesn’t speak to the norm of what it does today, is hard for anyone. The route of least resistance is to keep your head down and get on with what you are paid to do. If you are doing work that no-one is noticing, you’re running with the crowd and there used to be nothing wrong with that. But we believe that, today, it’s not a sustainable position for anyone to adopt. Workforces need to be mobilised as innovators.

To be the agent of change in your company, you must be the nucleator; the grit in the shell; the person that stands out for suggesting ideas that immediately attract resistance.

You don’t have to be difficult or contrary or deliberately confrontational. But you do need to push against something to know that your idea has made a bump in the road and that, now it’s out there, it has a chance of forcing a change from within.

We’re not suggesting revolution

…only that you take it upon yourself to create an atmosphere within which change can occur.

Being controversial is hard. Happily, today may be the absolute best time to be controversial, because this is where disruption starts. And if you’ve read anything about business in the last five years, disruption is the word of the day, every day.

Some examples

George Soros is controversial. His money supports activities that some people would prefer not to happen. He isn’t always popular but, anyone that has ever read reports about his ventures, knows what he stands for (George Soros interview at The Guardian).

Ben and Jerry’s is an ice cream brand with purpose beyond their product. As long ago as 2009 their Marriage Equality policy was written into their core values and reflects in product marketing.

Patagonia has only ever said what it says. Its uncompromising stance on environmental impact has never changed. This is a core value instilled by Yvon Chouinard when the business was founded and remains firm.

When you realise that these core purposes are so long held and so deeply embedded, it’s easier to understand why they attract such a lot of support from their social media communities. People who know that some brands represent more than making money, making ice cream or making T-shirts reward them with consumer trust.

When you sit down to write your 2020 budget, please have a think on what the right thing to do next year is:

purpose (noun)

noun: purpose; plural noun: purposes

  1. the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.
  2. a person’s sense of resolve or determination.

Our answer to starting this process is called 10, 20-30 and you can download the outline here.

Malcom Gladwell, in his new book Talking to Strangers, discusses the misunderstandings that arise when what you say isn’t what you mean.

For an aspirational business leader, this can easily be resolved with some clarity of purpose (remember ‘purpose’? It’s that elusive thing brands must maintain to ensure they resonate with customers). Only last month, we were trying to decide what Emotional Quotient meant to us; now there’s a new kid on the block asking for definition.

With specific attention to innovation and product planning, your policy may say something like “Our purpose is to make a difference by giving people innovative solutions for ….” But how?

What strategic steps will you take and what strategic position will you arrive at?

Some definitions:

Policy (noun) – a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual.

Strategy (noun) – a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.

See the difference? Policy is a general statement that no-one can really follow because it doesn’t tell them what to do – just what to believe. A bit like blind faith.

Strategy, on the other hand, is descriptive. It tells you that there is a target, an intent and a plan.

Lots of companies have a policy document or a mission statement.

Fewer have a product strategy that knows what its customers want to see it do – now and next. Why? Because a strategy must be specific and measurable, and it can be hard to know what to be, when everything around us is changing all the time. So, instead of making a decision and acting with intent, business leaders hedge their bets and do nothing, waiting for the next big idea to strike.

Anyway, back to Malcolm.

Don’t fall into the trap of being vague. Say what you want your teams to do. Company staff need to be told what is expected of them and the overarching purpose: why are we being asked to do something, where will it take us, and how can I make a difference?

Put this in place and all manner of intangible efficiencies start to open up: elephants vanish from rooms and black swans appear all over the place.

Telling your staff and customers what you plan to be in the future, and how they can help you achieve it, is a strategic action. It supports the policy and it means you have thought long and hard about it, removing the need for any lingering blind faith.

You can get really hung up on ‘purpose’, but in the interests of business survival it’s always better to have one than not. Working on an innovation or product strategy is a great way to start.

If we can be helpful to you, let’s talk. Here’s my diary.

Future thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.

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