The ‘Rules’ For Innovation: A CMO’s Viewpoint

by Debbie DeGabrielle,

Social media have accelerated our ability to be innovative, allowing us to identify gaps in the market more quickly and find new ways to improve customer service. As for what it takes for a company to be truly “innovative” today — and seize the opportunities social media presents — I’ve learned through my experience as head of marketing for a major retailer, and now, as a CMO who markets a social media solution to companies of all types, that the same set of “rules” apply to any organization, big or small. They are:Never fall in love with yesterday. When things are working well — and sales are up — there’s an irresistible temptation to keep doing more of the same. This may be good policy for the short term, but ultimately, it leads to lost opportunities and can jeopardize the long-term success of your company. As a CMO or other company leader, it’s your job to position your company, both on its own merits and within the competitive set with which you operate. The speed of competitive change today is outrageously fast, so don’t get left behind while clinging to past successes.

Invest in the untested. Always set aside a portion of your resources — time, human and financial — to test an idea with a promising but unclear path. Sure, 90% of these seeds may not grow, but the 10% that do will change your life — and yourcompany. Real innovation enters into the territory of the untested and unknown. This is why company leaders are wise to step out of their comfort zone to take advantage of new opportunities — especially today, in light of the Social Web.

Love the channels you have, but don’t let them hold you back. If you’ve made huge investments in stores, catalogs, websites or other traditional channels, there’s a natural tendency to focus on meeting the operational imperatives of each. However, this will derail your ability to evaluate all new channels effectively. Manage what you have for success, but don’t let prior investments preclude decisions you might make if those channels didn’t exist. Adapt to new insights to achieve a better fit and prepare for the “lift” social data can bring to all channels.

Apply a totally different set of filters. Even when you don’t have all the facts, you can make informed decisions and move ahead with new ideas. In positioning, you can be first to market, best to market, and so on, but the truly iconic market leaders can take very mature products and markets and apply a totally different set of filters. Look at Apple. Who would’ve thought the way to dominate the price-sensitive, loyalty-adverse cell phone market would be to introduce a very expensive phone supported by a single carrier? And that, with this one bold move, the market dynamics would fundamentally change?

Accept that you can’t know everything, but that your market will tell you exactly what you need to know. Here’s where Social Intelligence comes into the mix, as it provides actionable insight — a crucial element for innovation. A company needs to understand what is being said about its brand online, how customers are interacting across channels and where new market opportunities lie. This is essential not only to maintain meaningful, productive relationships with current and potential customers, but to uncover new and improved ways of serving your market.

Companies that move now to take advantage of all that social media have to offer — and, apply the rules for innovation shared above — will be better positioned to out-innovate their competition, accelerate business growth, and more than likely, ensure their long-term success.