Marketers' Breakfast: Innovation4th Aug 2017
Wednesday 2nd August
The Anthologist, 58 Gresham Street, London
For the latest instalment of the Amigo breakfast series, we invited marketers from a range of industries to discuss innovation.
Here are some highlights from our conversation.
Strategy and Tactics
One way our guests thought about innovation concerned long-term and short-term gains. For example, we talked about how to reconcile brand marketing with performance marketing. Ascential Plc Marketing Director, Jono Lewis mentioned that younger marketers tend to focus on data and metrics and lean towards a model of performance marketing that continuously seeks incremental improvements through iteration, whereas older marketers often have different skillsets.
GigCMO Founder Mark Magnacca elaborated on this point by introducing a distinction between innovation of solutions and innovation of thinking, with the latter being the more meaningful as it marks organisations that are increasingly successful. However Jono noted that simply developing fundamental marketing practices can feel innovative in large, traditional organisations. This is supported by a recent study by McKinsey, which shows that B2B companies continue to be digital laggards in comparison to their B2C counterparts.
Startups and Enterprises
This brought our discussion around to the effect that a business’s size has on its relationship to marketing innovation. Mariette Ferreira, Head of Marketing at FairFX, pointed out that the luxury of big budgets can actually be detrimental, while smaller companies are forced to be as efficient as possible. This point was echoed by Sam Gregory, ex-Google. Ian Hucklesby, a highly-experienced digital marketing consultant, supported this point, adding that in his experience startups cultivate new ideas because they must innovate or die.
The former CMO of MassChallenge, Diane Perlman noted how difficult it is to get enterprises to be innovative especially when short-term KPIs are paramount and suggested that while doing things such as establishing startup accelerators or internal innovation labs can help, they are far from a magic bullet. This is evidenced by the increasing number of big brands abandoning such labs, including Disney’s Research Lab which was closed in 2016. Morys Ireland, Lead Marketing Technologist at Mindshare, proposed that there was a direct link between innovation and size; the larger a business, the more challenging innovation becomes.
In fact, there was some consensus around the idea that big businesses should resign themselves to this fact and pursue a portfolio approach by identifying the innovative smaller businesses they ought to be bringing in. Mark’s view was that “if you’re not seeking out the right tools to support your team, then you’re not being an effective marketing leader in today’s climate.”
Barriers to Innovation
In discussing the features of large enterprises that disincline them to innovation, we came up with a few of the typical barriers. (Many of these contribute to the notorious marketing execution gap.)
Internal politics was a recurring suggestion. For example, Sam Gregory, an experienced marketer who has worked at Google and OVO Energy, observed that enterprises often look at innovation as a destination rather than a continuous process. It is falsely seen as something that can be ticked off a list.
Despite the growth of MarTech that is supposedly designed to make marketers’ jobs easier and to allow them to progress fast, our guests identified reckless implementation of new technology as a drag on innovation. Tech adoption is often initiated by senior executives, while marketers end up with solutions to problems they did not know they had.
This is exacerbated by what Robert Simons from Treatwell identified as the ‘lock-in’ effect. This occurs when those responsible for introducing a solution become emotionally attached to it, and their need to have their choice vindicated overshadows someone else’s ability to jettison something that isn’t working.
Jono Lewis mentioned that constantly looking to disrupt marketing can actually be detrimental to real innovation, giving the example of CMOs going to conferences, hearing about the “next big thing,” and diverting resources away from more practical projects. Evidence of this phenomenon has been collected by Gartner, and presented as the “hype cycle.”
On this point, Robert emphasised that innovation needs to be connected to actual customer need, rather than something that is simulated for either its own sake or a short-term PR goal. Claire Farrington, Partnerships and Marketing Manager at Grange Hotels, further suggested that the sort of innovation that can change the marketing industry is that which allows marketers to meet their customers’ needs pre-emptively. She argued that certain companies, such as Compare the Market, are already doing a great job of this; the comparison provider now offers real-time call support to customers who appear to be struggling to make purchase choices online.
There was therefore a lot of agreement around the breakfast table that incremental and small-scale innovations often produced greater benefits for marketers than efforts at disruptive transformation. Many of our guests knew of failed attempts to establish internal innovation labs and the like, and these contrasted starkly with their many other stories of successful innovation.
For example, Mark Magnacca mentioned that he had managed to enable a marketing team in a bank to build their own online loans platform, without disrupting internal development teams or being held up by the sort of bureaucratic structures that are put in place supposedly to engender innovation.
Rob Simons explained how Treatwell respond automatically to customer reviews, which they are alerted to automatically in Slack. These sorts of innovations were summed up by Jono Lewis as the “Golf GTI of innovative marketing practices, rather than the Ferraris that people tend to go for” (technologies such as AI and so on).
Our conversation was invaluable for sharpening our thinking about the precise types of innovation that marketers ought to pursue. It also provided a helpful reminder that for businesses to get a return on the resources that they dedicate specifically towards innovation, it cannot be something that exists in a silo. This is particularly true if this creates teams of people who are always staring way off into the future and obsessing over grand projects that use the year’s hottest technology.
Innovation has to permeate your approach to marketing in simple, practical ways.
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