The 'Rules' For Innovation: A CMO's Viewpoint

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 your company. 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.

4 comments about "The 'Rules' For Innovation: A CMO's Viewpoint ".
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  1. Karl Gustafson from CMG Partners, March 21, 2011 at 10:58 a.m.

    Thanks for this article Debbie, great points. We recently completed a study with over 30 CMO's and innovation and innovative thinking was not only top of mind but a trait that was deemed key to being a successful marketing leader. For those that are interested more information can be found at

  2. Debbie DeGabrielle, March 21, 2011 at 1:13 p.m.

    Thanks Karl, I'm glad you liked the post. I'm anxious to see your report and will go download it now.

    Here is a question for you, and maybe it will be addressed in the report, do CMO's feel they have the organizational flexibility to be as innovative as they need to be?

    By that I mean developing an innovative marketing plan or campaign is one thing, (largely under their complete control) but executing across the enterprise is proving to be far more difficult.

    Your thoughts? Thanks Debbie

  3. Aran L Nathanson, March 31, 2011 at 8:51 a.m.

    Invest in the untested & never fall in love with yseterday; I like it. Clearly a tall order and one which many companies fail to fill.

    I do also think that in some cases there is such a thing as a second mover advantage; the iPod wasn't the first hard drive MP3 player - they just got the form factor right (plus bundling with istore...).

    Aran Nathanson

  4. Rob Peters, May 23, 2011 at 7:30 a.m.

    Innovation is a difficult thing for many companies across most industries driven by traditional financial metrics. It is strategic for CMO's to innovate through experimentation. Measuring the quality of prospective and current customer/client relationships across all channels has never been more important. CMO's must help the CEO gain insight into how the quality of relationships with prospective customers/clients and current customers/clients can drive revenue/profits. If only 10% of the innovative project seeds will bear fruit and 90% will fail, you need a foundation of trust at the executive roundtable and across the enterprise culture to reward this effort. Otherwise the CMO will be held accountable (take the blame) and it will become a executive revolving door.

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