A 4 minute read by Tom Ellis, CEO/Founder
As marketers, we all pay a lot of lip service to the word "innovation." Our industry innovates quickly with new technologies being brought to market and overnight market leaders emerging. If your brand is already the market leader, then why innovate? This thought process has brought down many giants (think Blockbuster, Kodak, Circuit City — you know the names). As a large organization, it can be tough to push for innovation while being held accountable for delivering business results on a quarterly or annual basis. Those of us in marketing all know the risk of not innovating when it comes to marketing channels, tactics, and how best to connect with consumers.
If you are pushing for innovation within your organization, and feel like you are stuck or in a rut, here are a few ideas to jump-start your innovative initiatives:
1. Define the goal(s) for what you are looking to accomplish
If you are the world's greatest pub chain, you want to make sure that the things your team is innovating on are somewhat related to what business you are actually in. It isn't helpful to the pub chain owners to get an idea back for how to reinvent the wooden horse. The goals you set don’t need to be tied to financials, bottom line, or anything that directly impacts the business today. However, there should be some guidance as to what you want to learn as an organization, and what the overall goals of the company are. When those are established, you can let your team come up with innovative ideas that roll up to those goals.
2. Allocate resources dedicated to innovation/R&D
For larger organizations with large departments, huge budgets, and plenty of room for error, this may seem easy. In fact, many large corporations already have their own innovation labs or departments. For the mid-market with smaller budgets and many people wearing multiple hats, this can be more difficult. You don't have to have a full-time resource devoted to innovation, you could allow your team X hours/month toward coming up with new ideas, testing, and learning from the execution of those ideas. If you don't have the resources in-house and everyone is already stretched too thin, consider bringing in outsiders (typically agencies or consultants) to help with innovation.
3. Create a structure for innovation
People just going off into left field and coming up with ideas isn't helpful if there isn’t a way to consolidate, prioritize, and test those ideas. Come up with a way for those ideas to be submitted, reviewed, and prioritized. Some companies incentivize innovative ideas — coming up with internal contests and compensating those that come up with ideas that are then accepted and implemented.
4. Have a test and learn strategy
This is where the rubber meets the road. Many companies fail at this step. This is where you have to be air-tight on communicating internally what will be tested, and what the test and learn roadmap looks like. Come up with a prioritized timeline with the metrics you want to measure. Keep in mind, these metrics should not always be the same as the metrics you measure on your core marketing activities. If they are, you may not be testing the boundaries of innovation. A metric could even be "will this technology even work for us?", or "how could this impact our user base?" — not necessarily how it will affect top/bottom line growth.
5. Embrace and encourage failure
As we all know, no one has ever done anything great without failing time and time before reaching success. We learn more from failure than we do success. Push your teams to try things without boundaries (although make sure they have clear direction) and praise them for their learnings from failing. This can be scary for organizations that have bottom line numbers they have to hit, especially when you as the marketing leader have to report on where your dollars are being spent, but if you are managing up correctly, you should be able to navigate the corporate waters and explain that the purpose of innovating is to find things that will fail so you can narrow your focus on embracing new ideas that will drive overall business success.
Some of this may sound somewhat elementary and I think we all know in the back of our heads that these are steps we must take to innovate, but still, many marketers are still so focused on driving business results (for brands) or billable hours (for agencies and providers) that we often shy away from trying new things. We all know the risks of not innovating, but will we wait until it's too late to say "I wish we had..."?