My Innovation Conundrum

One of the 'hot topics' CMOs tell us they want to spend more time and thought on is innovaitons.  Rightly so, given that it is a sweet spot for top executives - 93% cite innovation as a top priority.

Unfortunately, innovation has the traits of a great buzz word.  Everyone wants it, but what does it actually mean for a CMO?  At a recent team meeting we debated the definition of innovation for marketing leaders and ended up with a few interesting directions…and no consensus.  

Could marketing innovation mean testing new media like mobile and social; building direct-to-consumer distribution; getting and involving customers or defining new products or even new product and service couplings?  Sure, all those and then some.  I think part of the challenge – and the fun - is that there are so many possibilities. Innovation and marketing are a good mix.

Seems like a great place for research. 

I’m working on a framework to help CMOs tie experimentation together into a marketing innovation strategy.  Central to this strategy will be posing a vision of how their company will interact with and relate to customers in the future.  The framework will help them explore the many different options and assemble a roadmap to begin planning how their organization should test and evolve to get to their future vision. 

If this topic interests you, and you’d like to contribute, please ping me.  I’m in the early stages and welcome insights, stories and debate.  If there are related questions you’re working through, send them along too.

So to my conundrum:  I’d like to set a relevant definition for innovation before going much further.  There are, as you would suspect, plenty of choices.  I’m tossing around two.  This first one feels closer to our jobs as marketers.  In particular, I like the call out to customers :  Innovation is creating new value for the both the customer and the company.  The second is broader, with a nice nod to the balance of creative and commercial:  Innovation is the transformation of ideas to value. 

Which of these describe the potential of marketing innovation?  Or do you have another idea entirely?   New possibilities welcome.


re: My Innovation Conundrum

Hi Mary,

I like the second definition because it does not suggest that there are only two roles in the CMO's universe to consider - customer and company. The creation of value can happen in a way that impacts employees and in turn impacts customers; it can be valuable for a company to create value for strategic partners or suppliers and use those relationships to develop innovative experiences for customers as well.

I'm very interested in the work you're beginning. One of my clients is a large pharmaceutical company who is currently looking at how to improve the experience of government representatives (those who approve the listing of drugs). This is an interesting twist on 'customer' because they don't choose each other, rather they are forced to work together. However, there is quite a bit of opportunity to improve the experience and even be innovative in terms of how the relationship yields better things for consumers. I have a number of other B2B cases I could share.

I'm on TypePad if you're interested in connecting or @erinokeefe.

re: My Innovation Conundrum


I like the second definition as well but I would add the word new in there somewhere:

"Innovation is the transformation of new ideas into value"

I'm particularly interested in new technologies and how they impact innovation and the spread of ideas. I'd be glad to share some software development cases if you like.

re: My Innovation Conundrum

Hi Erin - great point about partners as a source of value creation. Indeed, I hope some of the innovation we could see be unique packaging of offers for specific customer groups through cross-company partnerships.

My emphasis on customer was because I think the raison d'ĂȘtre of partnerships or any innovation should be getting value to the customer. I had also wanted to highlight the role of the CMO as the customer advocate.

Let me see if I come up with a better way to both be specific and not exclude some of the opportunity!

And I'd love to hear about what you're doing. I'll connect.

Hi Aran - thanks for your comment. I agree that marketers have a lot to learn from how technology developers approach innovation. I'm having a great conversation with my colleague Mike Gilpin on that very subject. Case studies welcome.

I would, though, challenge the addition of new. Sometimes innovation is applying an 'old' idea in a new way, or scotching two or three previously unrelated ideas together. Bottom line: technology is a great enabler of innovation, but not the only way to get there.

re: My Innovation Conundrum


Interesting thoughts here...

One of the things that our clients in India are beginning to ask is how to get their marketing communications seen a heard.

Like plummeting eMail open rates, indifference to campaigns we do on the mobile and the web.

We have often been asked to innovate and find ways to use web, email and mobile better, and we have had some successes I must say.

Often our ideas come across roadblocks put up by IT, customer service and innovation departments, as they overlap into their territories.

Making innovation a priority will call for re-engineering how companies operate. And that will be interesting to watch.

re: My Innovation Conundrum

Thanks Nishad - Indeed, wrapped up in this is an important question about value. Just pushing the same old messages out in new channels is clearly not going to cut it.

In one of my recent reports, I outlined a new role for marketers which I called 'Connecting the Dots' which is about marketers orchestrating the company around the brand experience - breaking down some of those barriers you've cited. Agree that it will be interesting...

re: My Innovation Conundrum

Hi, Mary. I like your second definition. We are very interested in better understanding you achieve true "engagement" with the consumer or other key constituents. We see of lot of organizations communicating "at" as opposed to "with" key constituents. We agree with you and others that the only measure of true engagement is an exchange of value.


re: My Innovation Conundrum

Hi Mary,

"Innovation is the transformation of ideas to value", seems to be the right direction.

But could we take it a step further? And define 'value' itself as 'inward' and 'outward'. Inward, for the organization's departments; and outward, for its customers and associates.

Here, I'd like to touch upon the point Nishad brought up... Recently, my Chief Strategy Officer gave an interesting presentation on 'Creativity & Innovation' to an auditorium full of top-level Financial Officers. These are people deeply involved in allocating marketing budgets! Their reaction was hugely enthusiastic. In fact, they wanted our opinion on how they - whose primary responsibility was to ensure the adherence to protocol and procedure - could innovate!

Perhaps, if an organization's immediate goal was better identified, and every departmental silo (from product development to accounting) involved in contributing innovative ideas on how they could help achieve it, success and accountability could be shared by everybody - not just by Marketing.

re: My Innovation Conundrum

The challenge with talking innovation to the business community is that you need to tie whatever innovation is to business value. As a friend has said, right now, while everyone knows they need vitamins, they can only afford pain relief. So innovation needs to be tied to business outcome (not just revenue, per say) and it needs to be done in a way that shows value to the business.

For six years, I was the founder of the Brand Experience Lab in NYC, creating a lab & think tank for the advertising/brand community. What we found is that while people loved to have the conversation about innovation, they didn't always know how it related to their actual business goals and objectives. "How does this help me make my bonus?"

That being said, I like the first definition because it speaks to value for both the customer and the company.

I'd love to be involved and help as this goes forward, so please don't hesitate to holler if I can be of assistance!

re: My Innovation Conundrum

Sorry, was off skiing and missed your comments. Innovative idea...vacation ;-).
What I take away from your comments, David and Mathew (and Erin), is maybe I should look at adding customer, partners and company (outward and inward) to the second definition. A sort of mash up.
I'll post what I come up with for another round of feedback. BTW, we're soon going to launch a CMO panel survey on marketing innovation. It would be great to hear from everyone reading. I'll post the link once it's live.