10 Ways To Apply Jugaad Innovation To Your SEM Practice

In February, Navi Radjou, author of Jugaad Innovation, delivered a keynote presentation at the Kenshoo K2 Summit. You can watch the entire video here and view the deck here. A focal point of his talk was that businesses must unleash their “MacGyver Instinct” -- also known as “frugal tinkering” -- to innovate and drive business results.

Per Navi, the word “jugaad” refers to “the ability to improvise an effective solution in adverse circumstances… …using limited resources.” Following are Navi’s 10 best practices for activating Jugaad Innovation, along with my thoughts on how they can apply to search engine marketing.

1. Set up a dedicated unit to do “corporate tinkering.” The world of search is always changing. Whether it’s a new algo or ad format to consider, you have to stay on your toes, anticipate change, and react quickly. One of the best ways to do this is by having a portion of your team and budget dedicating to testing. Don’t measure these resources by the same metrics used to evaluate overall campaign success. Give them the space needed for trial and error, and allow for plenty of error.



2. Turn all employees into MacGyvers. It’s not just the test group that should be encouraged to try new things and be given room to fail. Everyone on your team must actively tinker, lest they become too set in their ways. In SEM and broader digital marketing, what worked yesterday will not work tomorrow -- and the only way to stay ahead of the competition is to create a culture of innovation.

3. Partner with external tinkerers. It can be very difficult to capitalize on new opportunities in the marketplace without knowing where to look. And once you’ve found that opportunity, it can be a challenge to take action in an effective manner across your entire SEM program. That’s why technology automation platforms are so valuable. Rather than attempt to manually update business listings for SEO or keyword/bid combinations for SEM, third-party tools provide the external tinkering platforms needed to augment your internal infrastructure.

4. Engage customers in the tinkering process. If you’re an agency or technology provider, you would be wise to include your clients in the process of ideating and implementing new SEM solutions. And if you’re an in-house marketer, bring in your customers to get their perspective on what meaningful innovation would actually look like. Too often we can become wrapped up in our own concepts and lose touch with the core needs of the customers we serve. The result is innovation for innovation’s sake rather than solving real problems.

5. Bring in tinkerers through M&A. While we may not all have the luxury of being able to buy another company to turbocharge our SEM practice, we can certainly think creatively about mergers and acquisitions within our campaigns. One example is merging search and social campaigns by mapping social promotions to relevant ad groups and measuring the impact. Another example is “acquiring” additional SEM reach by “merging” your best-performing products and ads on Google into the Yahoo Bing Network. 

6. Create “positive” constraints. Every business and every SEM program has constraints. Limited budget. Limited time. Maximum cost-per-acquisition metrics. These constraints, while often frustrating, are what ultimately drive efficiency and profit. Rather than dwell on the constraints and let them stifle you, turn them into positive agents of change and find creative ways to redefine or reposition the constraints into opportunities. One example Navi provided was hackathons, where you bring people together for 24 hours of ideation and execution. Creating this constraint can keep people focused on outcomes and drive results that might not have been achieved if people had not been given such an unreasonable deadline. 

7. Reward tinkering successes and failures. In a world of real-time optimization, it can be very easy to lose sight of what we have actually achieved. Key results and learnings just get rolled into the next campaign. This is especially true with portfolio bid management strategies, where each individual keyword asset is absorbed into the overall goal. It’s important to stop and reflect every now and then and give credit to the people, platforms, and even keywords that drive success. At the same time, we must also acknowledge the sources of failure. From a people perspective, we want to make sure we’re rewarding folks for their contributions -- and holding them accountable for shortcomings as necessary. From a platform and asset perspective, we want to make sure we know what’s working and what’s not, so we can ensure proper coverage within SEM and application of insights to other parts of the marketing plan.

8. Engage Gen Y + Z tinkerers. Millennials definitely have an advantage when it comes to embracing new technologies, as they’ve been doing it all their lives. From competitive monitoring to bid management to analytics and attribution, there are so many tools to be tested and tinkered with as part of a comprehensive approach to SEM. Tapping folks with tech in their DNA will help you identify pockets of opportunity you’d have never discovered otherwise. 

9. Send top execs to tinker in emerging markets. SEM is radically different in China and Japan than it is in the U.S. and U.K. In addition to the fact that these Asian countries boast dominant engines not named Google, the usage trends -- particularly in the case of mobile -- provide a glimpse of how information retrieval can change societal norms. Developing an understanding of these cultural phenomena can provide a strong perspective and practical application to Western organizations.

10. Practice tinkering in your private life. At K2, we conducted a “marshmallow challenge,” which consisted of breaking into groups and trying to build the tallest freestanding structure using only 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. It was a great way to put the concept of Jugaad Innovation into play and see what we could do with scarce resources. There are many other ways to apply frugal tinkering outside the typical business construct -- and doing so will not only help keep your brain sharp for SEM, it may help you get out of a sticky situation some day.


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