Written by: Benjamin Utterback
The word “innovation” has become so commonplace that we’re becoming numb to it.
Every new start-up is as innovative as Uber. Established businesses are continuously mapping out a new innovation strategy. But to prove that a business is truly innovative is another task completely.
When every firm is telling their prospects that they are innovative, how can one stand out and become more visible in a crowded marketplace?
Why talk about innovation strategy?
Recently, we had the honor of having one of our clients receive a significant award for innovation. It inspired me and got me thinking about the difficulties a firm faces when trying to support a claim of innovation.
Nishith Desai Associates (NDA), a global law firm with Indian roots, specializes in cross-border transactions. Hinge’s Managing Partner, Lee Frederiksen, sits on their Board of Trusted Advisors. Because NDA is one of our clients, I get to see first hand how consistently they prove their innovation claim. I’ll map out three techniques they have used over the years that can help any firm differentiate themselves with a provable innovation strategy.
1. Win (and keep winning) awards
Linking together strategy and innovation is easier said than done. Winning an award means having a strategy for outreach, relationship cultivation with the award-giving organization, consistency, and patience. Once you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, you can start looking for awards to submit. Of course, there are some awards that seem out of reach, as they should be. In that case, go for some of the smaller, more niche awards first and work your way up. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to win bigger awards when you have already won a couple of smaller ones. Awards will get you noticed, and they ooze expertise.
Awards give your prospects something a client testimonial can not—a truly objective look into your firm’s strengths. When you win an award, you take a psychological place above all the firms that didn’t win, not to mention the firms that never applied. It is a stamp that your firm will own.
Recently, NDA was honored with a prestigious award from a global powerhouse, the Financial Times (FT). FT declared Nishith Desai Associates the Most Innovative Law firm in Asia Pacific.
They are the first Indian law firm to ever win this category of innovation. Out of 460 submissions from the best law firms in the Asia-Pacific, including the top western firms operating in that region, it was NDA who earned top honors.
They earned this distinction because of their long commitment to a strategy of innovation and a research-based, “design thinking” process to find innovative ways to solve complex global financial problems.
2. Get noticed with unique and valuable content
The term thought-leadership is another phrase that is thrown out there in the business/marketing world far too often. This is another claim that to be taken seriously needs to be proven. The easiest way to prove that you are a thought leader is to create unique and valuable content.
This is not easy. In fact, it’s harder than ever before. The web is overflowing with content. If you take a focused, long-term and consistent approach to content marketing, however, you can become a thought leader. In your innovation strategy, you need to commit the time and resources it takes to create educational content that your clients and prospects find useful and compelling. Another way to get noticed as an authority is to be one of the first to address a specific problem, trend, or popular issue.
One such innovation example is when NDA was one of the first to wrangle the Bitcoin phenomena in 2012. They were cited by some of the top Bitcoin authorities, such as www.newsbtc.com. In fact, they advised the Bitcoin Alliance of India and championed the survival of the Bitcoin industry, helping to make Bitcoin available to a billion of the world’s people.
But NDA didn’t stop there. Every year, they release research reports, webinars, and seminars on specialized subjects. That’s how you build an innovative strategy.
3. Have innovation-focused case studies and speaking engagements
If you are going to make a claim of innovation, you need to write and speak about it with authority. Years ago when NDA started its cross-border Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) practice in India, it began publishing M&A Labs. In each M&A Labcase study, they dissect a major, non-client merger or acquisition from strategic, legal and tax perspectives. Today NDA is the fastest growing M&A law firm in India.
Case study examples like these build credibility across the marketplace and bolster a firm’s innovation claim.
If you want to implement a similar strategy and innovation program, you’ll need content to share with your potential clients—both in-person and on your website—that describes how you’ve found innovative ways to help clients. And naturally, you will want to include these case studies in your award submissions to give you an edge over competitors who lack this broad, analytic depth.
Some firms think that if you do a couple case studies, that is enough. If you really want to get noticed, however, try to publish several case studies a year. Potential clients will see that your firm is committed to quality content and big-picture thinking.
In these case studies, make innovation a part of your strategy by explaining not only the solutions you provided but the thinking behind them.
Make it a point to secure speaking engagements at conferences, tradeshows, and professional association events. You can also host your own events in person or in webinar format. It does take more effort than writing a blog post, but it is worth it. In our 2016 High Growth Research Study, we found that speaking engagements offered the best ROI for high-growth firms. Focus your speaking on innovation, as well, and you will start to earn a reputation for fresh thinking.
Piecing it all together
If your firm is going to make a serious claim, such as being “innovative”, you need the evidence to back it up. A solid business innovation strategy is nothing to scoff at. It takes concerted effort and hours of planning.
Then there is the actual implementation of your innovation strategy. Your firm needs to commit to this strategy for months, not weeks, before it will start seeing results. Even then, it will take time to gain momentum and take hold in the marketplace.
It’s one thing for firms to claim they are innovative. Some professional services firms, like NDA, are actually doing things differently. They are the ones that win awards for the innovative things they do. They are the ones that stand out from the crowd and are reaping the rewards.
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