How to drive innovation in marketing

Innovation is yet another demand from today’s marketers. Traditionally, marketers focused on innovation in communication. For this, they worked with their agencies. Today innovation has to touch the areas of product, technology, channels and content. And there is no way marketers can simply outsource this. In order to lead innovation marketers need to collaborate - both internally and externally.

A traditional mindset is suicide

Many marketing organisations, especially those in the FMCG sector, still seem fixated on GRPs and the tried and tested formula of television advertising. Innovation was a nebulous concept and out of bounds for marketers until recently, previously being in the domain of product and R&D teams. Demonstrating ROI on innovation is also not an easy task. Large scale organisations also believe in their process which leads to better efficiencies and less mistakes, but also reduces opportunities to think outside the box.

There are many obstacles to overcome to drive true innovation, and here are quick tips to tackle internal ones:

Enlist Allies

Always be in the lookout for like-minded people from different parts of the company- Product, R&D and even sales. Create ‘informal networks’ which help in pushing ideas through.

Start small

Develop a pilot project to push innovation and provide a business case to senior management.

Involve procurement early on

Start the conversation of value over cost at the onset and bring procurement along in the ride of pushing boundaries.

Don’t underestimate the minor

Smaller markets are usually more willing to experiment than regional marketers. Introduce a differentiated product or a unique channel in a local market and leverage the success story.

Harness public opinion

Public contribution enables shaping of ideas and garnering feedback quickly. An online survey or asking your followers on Twitter are simple ways to learn from your existing consumers. A more elaborate means is to create an online customer community. Portals like do just that.

Atypical agency engagements

The need and speed of innovation is causing marketers to experiment with different agency models. In our years of consulting marketers we have seen various shifts e.g. move from creative agency being the AOR to social agencies getting a seat the grown-up table. However there is no ‘one size fits all’. Clients are trying out the approach that works best for their needs. From ‘best in class’ to ‘bespoke agencies’ it’s all happening.

How leading marketers tackle agency collaboration

  • One brief-joint briefings with all agencies in one room including PR, research and social agency is working wonders for the bigger projects. Kimberly-Clark, Mondelez have implemented this for a few years with huge success.
  • Reducing lead time. One example is Unilever, which has aimed to reduce lead times to as low as 90 days for test projects.
  • Involving social media owners directly- direct access to Facebook, Google, Adobe has changed the dynamics and is urging agencies to get out of their comfort zone.
  • Rethinking partnerships- going beyond agencies to include bloggers, influencers and even the consumers directly. Unilever Foundry, launched in Singapore in Jan 2015, is a global platform to connect innovative startups with Unilever's portfolio of brands. It offers Unilever marketers opportunities to experiment and pilot new technologies more efficiently, effectively and frequently.

Measuring Innovation

Even with the most collaborative efforts towards innovation, ROI has to be proven. ROI on innovation needs to go beyond dollars and cents. Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on their own projects. Gmail and Google Maps started life as such 20% projects. However even though not every prototype sees the light of day, what stayed is the culture of innovation. Fear of failure does not create a conducive environment for innovation. It’s important to start small, test, learn and even celebrate failures to apply learnings.

Baby steps towards building an innovation culture

  • Innovation should not be just about business results- better process, deeper insights, closer engagement, new ways of working should all be treated as KPIs for innovation.
  • It should be a joint responsibility of marketers and agencies, not one party should do it alone.
  • Allocate specific budget to support innovation.
  • Foster learning-based KPIs vs. revenue-based KPIs.
  • Pay agencies on performance– this ensures agency accountability.
  • Remove layers of approval by creating small and nimble teams.
  • Create processes for turning initiatives into live products.

Innovation is a culture that needs to be embedded. Leaders must pave the way for their teams and it needs to also be connected in the way people and agencies are compensated.

 The writer is Seema Punwani, a senior consultant with R3.