The identification of innovation opportunities by search engine optimisation agencies: small firm cases in a UK cluster

  • Matthew James Hendry

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The aim of this thesis is to further knowledge of how digital marketing agencies identify opportunities for innovation. Being innovative within digital marketing is an issue faced by many of the small digital marketing agencies. Recent research that has been carried out on SME innovation has focused on networking and integration. It could be said that this research is largely not applicable to the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) industry when competitive advantage is such a major factor. Furthermore, the research suggests that many small agencies would take an ad-hoc approach to innovation. Other research has also shown that innovative companies can grow faster and become more profitable. Therefore, agencies that can become more advanced in their innovation capabilities could see competitive advantages come from this. This thesis investigates the emerging processes that are currently being used within digital marketing agencies to identify opportunities for innovation. It specifically looks at the identification stage of innovation rather than the entire innovation process. Breaking the innovation process down into various sub-processes enables a far greater depth of insight to be drawn. The research approach was qualitative with four in depth interviews of experts within the field being completed. Then based on these findings a further 17 interviews were completed in five agencies located within the Brighton and Hove area. All interviews carried out were semi structured. The contribution to knowledge is based around four key areas. Firstly, a definition of innovation is developed specific to the digital marketing agencies. Secondly, a model of innovation identification is constructed. Thirdly, key insights around time pressures within the industry are put forward. Finally, the concept of open innovation is considered. Within this project it was found that those companies more adept within their innovation capability were able to provide an appropriate definition of innovation. These companies also had a process for identifying innovation opportunities in place. In addition, time to complete innovation will always be an issue within this industry. However, there are some limited long term ways in which this can be mitigated through management support and company structure. Finally, within the concept of open innovation, there was found to be a disparity within the industry which thinks of itself as open when the reality points towards it being more closed than it believes. This thesis produces rich insights into the ways in which creativity is developed into innovation and how companies within the digital marketing industry may be able to absorb ideas from creative employees into the business in order to improve their innovative capabilities.
Date of AwardNov 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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