Bust through internal barriers to get innovation off the ground

Driving effective marketing innovation requires overcoming internal barriers. Dentsu innovation solutions officer Jeff Tan discusses how marketing organizations can create a culture of innovation by encouraging new ways of thinking, acting agile but not being afraid to stumble, and measuring smartly.

Earlier in this series, we saw how to define marketing innovation through the lens of a strategic, operational or tactical lens. We discussed how to develop the perfect innovation brief by getting closer to the customer. In this piece, I’ll take you through what’s needed in creating a culture where solutions can be ideated, incubated and iterated.

First, let’s dispel a few myths.

Myth 1: The lone genius

The most innovative organizations are filled with teams of cognitively diverse people, working together and challenging each other to drive progress. The key is to create an environment of psychological safety, high on trust and an acceptance that mistakes won’t be punished.

Myth 2: The eureka moment

Our western culture celebrates overnight successes and we often overlook the processes, iterations, and failures that happened along the way. I hate cliches, but I’ll say one anyway: the journey is more important than the destination. It’s the insights learned along the way that matter the most.

Myth 3: Innovation is a thing

Too often, our industry believes that innovation is derived solely by creating technological breakthrough. Focusing on developing technology for the sake of it will create a better mousetrap that nobody wants. Instead, organizations should view innovation as an iterative process centered on a continual customer-focused mindset.

The biggest barriers in marketing organizations that hinder innovative progress are typically internal. With the right strategy and prioritized focus from leadership, there are three areas needed to solve for this – imagination, creativity and accountability. Here are the solutions that you need to keep in mind.

Imagination: Think different (or like a toddler)

I’m always astounded by my toddler son Hudson’s limitless imagination. In his mind he can visualize any tree as a dinosaur, any chair a race car and any wall as a canvas (I’m not too happy about this one).

We need to recapture that inner toddler spirit and inject more imagination into our marketing efforts. We need to think beyond inherited limitations. To think different.

Doing so requires a conscious effort and rewiring of our neural pathways. By looking through the lens of what is our job to be done that solves customer needs, we can reframe problems. This requires a relentless focus on customer observation, an open mind that can uncover new meaning from observations in order to solve old problems.

Creativity: Act agile (but don’t be afraid to stumble)

To be innovative means to act with agility. It means moving away from what I call ‘Perfection Perception Syndrome‘ – the affliction our industry faces whereby everything we do has to seem like it was utterly perfect.

The problem with perfect perception is that we’re always holding ourselves and others up to a flawless standard. Therefore, there is zero incentive to try anything new. To do so would lead to a risk that things won’t work out. An initiative might not get a positive ROI. You might fail. Everyone will laugh. You won’t get that promotion.

To act creatively means to move with speed and agility. It means releasing any expectation that an innovation initiative must success. An agile, MVP mindset is needed to get something to market as quickly as possible and test, learn, iterate.

Accountability: Measure smartly (and not just for the short-term)

The right metrics are critical to any marketing innovation initiative. We need to measure what matters.

It is critical here to separate innovation initiative metrics from the core marketing focus metrics that your organization might focus on. It is not the short-term ROI that matters here, instead success in an innovation initiative is what insight you gained from putting this into market.

What feedback did customers provide? How can you incorporate this feedback into future marketing initiatives or product development? What did the initiative teach you about the campaign, or the product, the organization, the industry?

For example, a few years ago, I teamed up with General Motors to launch the world’s first interactive billboard with facial detection cameras. A dynamic digital screen would update video content in real-time based on the audience make-up in front of the screen. These insights helped inform future dynamic creative strategies, both in digital and offline media.

Thinking different, acting agile and measuring smartly requires focus and strong leadership. It requires a culture of experimentation and imperfection, an environment where ideas can be sparked and implemented.

It requires the right internal and external partnerships to help get initiatives off the ground. And it requires a constant mindset of optimism – celebrating every win, every insight gained, and every action taken to progress your organization’s efforts forward.

Jeff Tan is innovation solutions officer at Dentsu