I had lunch the other day with a long-time friend who is also a marketing professional. We are working in two very different worlds right now ─ I’m in senior living and she’s in kids marketing ─ but we always seem to find some common ground when talking shop. During our last lunch, we discussed what elements were needed to create breakthrough marketing ideas.
Innovation doesn’t happen because it is an agenda item at a monthly marketing meeting. Coming up with big ideas on demand is like catching lightning in a bottle, and we all know how often that happens. So what is required to foster innovation? Here are three important organizational/cultural qualities that I think, based on my experience, are almost always present in innovative marketing teams.
Individual Leadership – Innovation and breakthrough thinking happen when there is a recognizable and passionate leader who owns the vision and dream of the organization. Someone who embodies the very essence of what the organization is striving to attain and communicate. This doesn’t mean there must be a single all-powerful marketing person, or even that this leader must be the head of marketing. Rather, what this leadership offers is a guiding force, a source of inspiration, and an effective sounding board to initiate and feed the process.
Risk-Taking – Breakthroughs don’t typically happen on the first try. The big idea is often the third, fourth or fifth thing tried. Test and learn, try new things, understand it is a process. Organizations that value innovation also recognize that sometimes good ideas on paper don’t work in the real world. It is hard to be a conservative innovator. That doesn’t mean being foolish or not strategic, but it does require a tolerance for bumps in the road on the way to the breakthrough idea.
Investment – Hand in hand with risk-taking is knowledge that it might cost a little more to find that breakthrough idea. Whether this is partnering with premier resources, the costs of trial and error, or the need to continuously fund the effort over time, marketing innovation must be an organization value, and thus seen as an investment ─ not an expense.
Is the presence of these three qualities a guarantee of innovation – no. But consider your own situation. Are you being asked to achieve, or are you striving for innovation without these? How successful have you been? New thinking is hard. Big ideas are more uncommon than common. But it isn’t all luck. Pay attention to the make-up of your organization to give yourself the best chance at breakthrough thinking.