Designing Innovation Communication throughout an Innovation Process to Foster Diffusion and Strategic Change


Communication needs innovation. Co-creation, crowd-sourcing, and social networking are key drivers of “open” communication in the Open Innovation economy. Consequently, new means of communication are crucial to exchange in an innovation process on the inter-organizational and intra-organizational level or within innovation communities as part of collaborative innovation. Hence, a new perspective on Innovation Communication in the Open Innovation economy is developing. It is different from that on scientific communication or marketing of innovations (see post “How Innovation Communication Differs from Scientific Communication and Marketing of Innovations”, in that the focus is on an on-going dialogue and toward resources and capabilities for re-invention and strategic change. However, little research has been done on this phenomenon and new practical approaches are required.

Understanding “open” communication in the Open Innovation economy: Innovation Communication from a strategic management view

“Traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications — is dead. […] When you try to extend traditional marketing logic into the world of social media, it simply doesn’t work.” (Lee, 2012 on HBR Blog

With regard to corporations and different tasks in strategic management, innovation
management, marketing, and corporate communication, Innovation Communication can represent a new communication field to bridge the gap between strategy, innovation, and communication on inter-organizational as well as intra-organizational levels. It offers a communication management approach that describes innovation as strategic change and Innovation Communication as a main driver/dynamic capability for building resources and capabilities (e.g. reputation management; innovation culture; innovation capabilities; collaborative networks/communities) to strengthen competitive advantage in the long-run.

Moreover, and most importantly, Innovation Communication represents a means for
overcoming fragmentation of communication systems, marketing and innovation activities, and innovation cultures. For instance, leveraging knowledge diversity and stakeholder diversity can be made possible through efficient management of innovation communication.

Thus, from a strategic management perspective Innovation Communication can be understood as a strategic capability (1) to carry on stakeholder dialogue about emerging issues, ideas, and novelties on consumer markets/sales markets, resource markets and communication markets; and (2) to build, extend, and re-configure a
resource base (tangible resources, intangible resources, and capabilities) of a corporation or collaborative network at the same time and over time for re-invention and strategic change in global environments (Pfeffermann, 2011b).

The question can be posed as to how Innovation Communication, as a strategic capability of an organization, can foster diffusion and strategic change in terms of carrying on smart, reflective and open stakeholder dialogue in consumer markets, resource markets and communication markets and building, extending, and re-configuring resources and capabilities throughout an innovation process.

Designing Innovation Communication throughout a Diffusion Process

Diffusion is understood as “communication of an innovation through certain
channels over time among the members of a social system” (Rogers, 2003: 11).
Hence, communication is identified as a key success factor of a diffusion process.

A recently published post by Dr. Ralph Ohr (@ralph_ohr) states that every stage
in a diffusion process…

“… requires dedicated capabilities and culture in order to be completed successfully and efficiently. Invention is mainly based on technical and research expertise, whereas the
business model search process depends on hypotheses testing, experimentation and customer-related skills. Finally, successful execution relies on commercialization competency and operational capabilities. […] Effective and efficient coverage of each innovation stage may require a craft vs. scale specialization [and suggests] the formation of value networks with complementary roles along the innovation chain. [Hence,] organizational capabilities to reinvent and create new business models become more and more important.” (Ohr, 2012)

More precisely, then, the question is: Which communication tools might be used to support stages in a diffusion process?

A portfolio of strategic and operational communication tools is required to manage stakeholder dialogue (exchange) across multiple dialog levels throughout a diffusion process. Based on diffusion theory and empirical studies as well as a four-year
research project (see Rohde et al., 2012), an approach to designing several innovation communication tools throughout a diffusion process has been developed. Leveraging the management toolbox of innovation communication (Pfeffermann, 2011a), this approach is to use various innovation communication tools (to be described in detail in upcoming posts on ISEIC blog) related to main different stages in a diffusion process, as illustrated in Fig. 1.

Innovation Communication throughout an Innovation Process

Fig. 1 Innovation Communication throughout an Innovation Process
Source: by the author

Phase/Stage 1. Idea generation / fuzzy front end / invention:
Strategic tools at the early stages of invention include market research, resource &
capabilities analysis, issues management; storytelling, framing, and scenario planning. Operational tools in the initial phase are Social Media / online & mobile communication; internal / project communication; and strategy / change communication. For instance, a web-based co-creation platform can facilitate exchange to stimulate idea generation and to identify stakeholders’ knowledge schemata  /  frame of reference.

Phase/Stage 2. Idea realization / Research & Development (R&D):
In the realization phase the strategic objective is to systematically build, extend,
and manage resources and capabilities for R&D support or for validation of a business model/idea. At this stage strategic tools should change priority in line with new requirements relating to these objectives. Storytelling, framing, scenario planning, market research, reputation management, and resource & capabilities management are crucial on the strategic level. On the operational level it is necessary to leverage Social Media / online & mobile communication, network communication / partner channel communication, and public relations in stimulating dialogue and getting feedback from relevant stakeholder groups.

Phase/Stage 3. Commercialization / market launch:
Finally, the commercialization phase aims at demonstrating the readiness of an offer. This
requires storytelling, campaign management, reputation management, and resource
& capabilities management. On the operational level, integrated marketing communication across diverse media (print, online, face-to-face and partner channel
communication), public relations, and network communication are crucial to address consumer markets, communication markets and resource markets.

Indeed, storytelling and framing are key tools for innovation communication. In particular storytelling can support design thinking (Mootee, 2012) and can attract attention to media / journalists and collaborative partners / co-creators throughout an innovation diffusion process. In contrast, integrated marketing communication is not possible throughout an innovation process due to unforeseen events / contact points with unknown/new stakeholder groups (e.g. new collaborative partner that can change a message) and the innovation communication dynamic itself in terms of transactional, open and reflective stakeholder dialogue. Instead, a conceptual basis should be adapted to each stage of the diffusion process from planning to controlling, including ethical reflection.

A new multi-level perspective/approach on designing several communication tools throughout an innovation diffusion process: adapting communication to stakeholder groups in three markets

Communication always needs to be adapted for stakeholder groups according to message, subject/innovation type, culture, form, and time. In general, the aim is to systematically carry on stakeholder dialogue for addressing consumer markets, communication markets, and resource markets and to build, extend and re-configure a resource base to foster diffusion of innovation and strategic change. A dialogue perspective of a diffusion process is shown in Fig. 2. The illustration presents a multi-level view of the exchange in different stages of a diffusion process; independent from the type of corporation and
innovation. The assumption is that innovations represent a valuable resource for
every corporation involved in global business and thus any corporation design and manage Innovation Communication as a strategic capability to carry on stakeholder dialogue and leverage a resource base to foster diffusion of innovation and strategic change.

The dialogue levels are related to the three different markets in the three phases of the
diffusion process:

To address consumer/sales markets, the first dialogue level ‘innovation focus’ concentrates on an on-going dialogue with stakeholders to exchange ideas in the idea generation/stimulation phase; to re-define concepts and demonstrate readiness in the idea realization phase; and finally to demonstrate market readiness for launching a product or service solution in the commercialization phase. This process is currently executed using Social Media / web-based platforms and co-creation concepts (see video on co-creation from idea generation to market launch). Innovation focused dialogue is particularly relevant for new product development, in managing a business idea to re-define and validate a business plan, or to exchange with stakeholders to successfully launch a solution (incl. cooperation with other partners).

The second dialogue level ‘issue focus’ describes all communication activities related to communication markets. This encompasses exchanging with stakeholders in the idea generation/stimulation phase to identify frames of reference based on knowledge schemata; to positively facilitate building knowledge or adapting schemata for adoption processes in support of idea realization; and finally to highlight and position issues related to a launched product or service solution (context-issue of an innovation) in communication markets at market launch. For instance, an exchange to identify and
adapt stakeholders’ knowledge schemata / frame of reference is crucial for change and re-invention (see also Kastelle, 2012).

In order to build, extend, and re-configure resources and capabilities of a corporation to support re-invention and competitive advantages, the third dialogue level ‘resources & capabilities focus’ addresses resource markets in terms of exchanging to identify needs and opportunities in the first phase (e.g. building a collaborative network); to manage a resource base in the idea realization / validation phase; and to present a resource base (e.g. core competences) for a new project / innovation in the  commercialization phase (e.g. to find global companies to scale a market solution).

Multi-level view of the exchange in different stages of a diffusion process

Fig. 2 Multi-level view of exchange in different stages of a diffusion process
Source: adapted from Daschkovska et al. (2010)

Example – Phase 1 / all dialog levels: Concepts in co-creating ideas/innovations and
stimulating idea generation that leverage social media and co-creation/crowd-sourcing/crowd-wisdom have also increasingly raised interest for many corporations involved in global business. Thus, communication tools have to be used that (1) can stimulate idea generation (e.g. on online idea platforms); can identify stakeholder’s
knowledge schemata/frame of references (e.g. discussions in online communities); and (3) can identify needs and opportunities to build or extend a resource base of a corporation/new venture (e.g. to present an idea on a crowd-funding platform).

Overall, there is an iterative learning process throughout an innovation process (Innovation Communication Dynamics), which corporations have to carefully consider to
foster innovation diffusion and strategic change.

In the Open Innovation economy communication also needs innovation. Co-creation, social networking, crowd-sourcing, crowd-wisdom, etc. are key drivers for “open”,
authentic, transactional information transmission. Traditional communication marketing in this context is no longer relevant. Innovation Communication, as a strategic capability, represents a new communication form on to (1) carry on smart, reflective and open stakeholder dialogue about emerging issues and novelties in consumer markets, resource markets and communication markets and (2) to build, extend, and re-configure resources and capabilities for re-invention and strategic change in the global Open Innovation economy.

Innovation Communication successfully manages activities which include stimulating,
selecting and exchanging ideas; initiating change; setting trends; and implementing new offers and processes that are perceived as new by any stakeholder (e.g. a new strategy or social media platform). Best practices as described in the literature include those of Siemens, DHL Innovation Center, Telekom Innovation Labs, RWE, etc. (see best practices in Hülsmann & Pfeffermann, Strategies and Communications for Innovations, 2011).

Innovations represent a valuable resource for every corporation involved in global business. In the Open Innovation economy ideas and novelties become even more attractive for competitive innovation advantage. Hence, corporations aim at strengthening their innovation capabilities and managing a unique innovation portfolio (see also posts by (Hobcraft & Philips, 2012; Hobcraft, 2012; Hobcraft, 2011). Therefore, the linkage between innovation communication and innovation portfolio management is an important area for future investigation. Furthermore, this article does not focus in detail on the dimensions of the conceptual definition of innovation communication as a strategic capability. Thus, future research should investigate in detail the eight dimensions of innovation communication as a strategic capability (as suggested by Pfeffermann, 2011b). Specifically, further development of a conceptual approach of how to build up and measure Innovation Communication would enrich our understanding of it as a strategic capability on an individual, corporation, and collaborative network level.

What do you think? I do appreciate exchanging and discussing Innovation Communication from multiple perspectives.

I would like to thank Julie Gould for reading and commenting on this post.
Special thanks go also to Dr. Ralph Ohr for his worthwhile comments and ideas
on this post.

Additional information / posts on innovation communication on ISEIC Blog:
>> Innovation Communication – Enabler of Innovation as Strategic Change
>> Presentation: Innovation Communication from a Management Perspective
>> Smart, Reflective Innovation Dialogue


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Pfeffermann, N. (2011b). Innovation Communication as a Cross-Functional Dynamic Capability: Strategies for Corporationss and Networks. In M. Hülsmann, & N. Pfeffermann (Eds.), Strategies and Communications for Innovations (pp. 257–289).
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Rohde, M., Pfeffermann, N., Echelmeyer, W., & Rasch, C. (2010). The
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